Postpartum depression (PPD) often gets more attention when mothers experience it, but male postpartum depression can occur in new dads. Surprisingly, fathers can be afflicted by depression and anxiety both during pregnancy and after birth at rates similar to those of new mothers. It’s estimated that 1 in 7 women can experience PPD compared to 1 in 10 males. Fortunately, the symptoms of postpartum depression for dads are becoming more recognizable, helping dads get the help and treatment they deserve.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is feelings of sadness and anxiety that come days to months after the birth of a baby. It is a medical condition that commonly affects new moms but can also be experienced by new fathers. While many parents go through a rough patch while adjusting to a newborn, PPD is serious and long-lasting. In most cases, PPD requires treatment to improve.
Perinatal depression vs. postnatal depression, what’s the difference?
Postpartum depression is sometimes called postnatal depression — postnatal meaning “after childbirth.” However, research has shown that parents-to-be can feel depressed and anxious during pregnancy. When depression happens at any point from conception to postpartum, it is known as perinatal depression. PPD is just one kind of perinatal depression.”Postpartum depression is sometimes called postnatal depression — postnatal meaning after childbirth. However, research has shown that parents-to-be can feel depressed and anxious during pregnancy. When depression happens at any point from conception to postpartum, it is known as perinatal depression. PPD is just one kind of perinatal depression.
Regardless of the term you use, paternal postnatal depression (PPND) has had difficulty getting recognition compared to maternal depression. You may have heard the lighthearted but condescending term “sad dads,” or the idea that because men’s hormones don’t fluctuate like women’s during pregnancy and postpartum, their symptoms aren’t real. Sadly, this isn’t the case.
Is male postpartum depression real?
Male PPD is a real condition affecting 8 to 10% of fathers in the United States. It can be just as serious in men as it is in women. It’s important to note that male postpartum depression symptoms can look slightly different than female PPD symptoms. Additionally, when dads experience depression postpartum, the feelings may take longer to set in.
Because men may not always discuss feelings of sadness or anxiety, postnatal depression in men can be less talked about and understood. Still, these factors don’t make it any less real.
Postpartum blues vs postpartum depression
Pregnancy-related depression during the postpartum period is also different from the “baby blues,” a somewhat common feeling of sadness and mood swings in the few days immediately following the birth of a child.
Almost every new parent goes through a rough patch in the period leading up to birth and the days to weeks after the arrival of a brand-new baby. Both parents undergo significant role adjustments and must reset their priorities to tend to a needy new family member. Some initial symptoms of baby blues are irritability, fatigue, and sadness. Mood swings are also common. These feelings can occur a few hours post-delivery and may last up to two weeks.
Alternatively, PPD symptoms tend to be more severe and enduring. They can also take longer to arrive after birth, often happening within four weeks after delivery and lasting up to a year.
What are the risk factors for postpartum depression for dads?
PPD in men can begin any time after the new baby is delivered, and it can last throughout the first year of the infant’s life. Initially, it might be hard to distinguish if symptoms are related to baby blues or PPD, as both can cause similar feelings. What’s the source of these feelings?
The most obvious is the disruption that accompanies the task of incorporating an utterly helpless and yet all-powerful third party into the family dynamic. There are many disruptions that factor into postpartum depression
No sleep for you
Sleep deprivation is a given for new parents. Most newborns only sleep in 3- to 4-hour stretches (often less!) during the first few months of life, and the lack of sleep for parents is a huge factor in the causation of postpartum depression. The impact of daily stressors is multiplied when you’re exhausted.
Male [postpartum depression] is a real condition affecting 8 to 10% of fathers in the United States.
The new father and male hormonal changes
There seems to be universal awareness that pregnant women undergo vastly transformative hormonal changes during and after pregnancy. A much less widely known fact is that men also undergo hormonal changes (specifically, a reduction in testosterone levels) in the time period surrounding incipient fatherhood.
Less testosterone coursing through a man’s system leads to a corresponding reduction in hostility and aggression and an increase in empathy and sympathy during the postnatal period. This temporary hormonal shift enables him to create strong and loving bonds with his new child. However, accepted research shows that low testosterone in a man is directly linked to mood disorders and depression.
There are plenty of other risk factors for PPD, too
Of all the risk factors associated with PPD, a partner experiencing perinatal depression can be one of the strongest links to a new father’s depression. A meta-analysis of 20 studies showed that the husband of a wife with postpartum depression is twice as likely to develop his own PPD.
Just like all other forms of depression, PPD is a complex and intricate condition. Aspects such as the new father’s history of depression or anxiety disorders, ongoing marital discord, poverty, feeling disconnected from the mother and baby, and whether the pregnancy was intended, can all play a significant role in the creation of paternal perinatal depression.
What are the symptoms of male postpartum depression?
Paternal depression is expressed in many ways. Some common symptoms include:
- Anger, irritability, and intrusive thoughts of causing harm.
- Risk-taking behaviors, such as substance abuse and alcohol overuse.
- Detachment from your family.
- Feelings of stress, frustration, and worthlessness.
- Physical symptoms such as constant fatigue, headaches, weight gain, and stomach cramps.
- Loss of interest in previous activities.
- Low motivation and lack of concentration.
- Thoughts of suicide.
Dads can experience these “traditional” symptoms of depression and anxiety. Still, they often don’t exhibit as many outward-appearing symptoms as women. For example, signs of postpartum depression in dads don’t usually include outbursts of crying.
What are the adverse consequences of PPD?
Unfortunately, dads with postpartum depression can have a negative impact on their family. Infants of depressed fathers experience a higher level of distress. Research has shown paternal depression adversely affects parenting behaviors and is associated with decreased sensitivity and increased hostility toward children.
Children who live with a depressed father have an approximately 50% increased risk of developing emotional or behavioral problems. Paternal depression is linked to delays in behavioral, emotional, and social development in four and five-year-old children.
It’s suspected that untreated PPD creates negative energy that destructively rolls through both current generations and those to come. That’s why it’s a very good thing that effective treatment is available.
How is postpartum depression for dads treated?
The first step in postpartum depression treatment is recognition. This step proves to be remarkably difficult for a great many new fathers. Remember, most new dads don’t exhibit outward signs, and many are apt to hide their depression from friends and family members; making intervention from loved ones can be unlikely.
The importance of perinatal depression screening for men
Men might commonly perceive mental illness issues as a weakness, which may be why male PPD isn’t talked about as much as female PPD. Fatherhood is supposed to be the best time of a man’s life; seeing a mental health professional because your dreams of having a beautiful family have come true might seem silly to some. Society can further these feelings.
Why should the father need treatment? He didn’t carry the baby or support the pregnancy with his body. He didn’t go through all the inconvenience, discomfort, and pain of pregnancy and delivery. Many stalwart husbands believe their task is to provide practical and emotional support to their long-suffering wives. At the same time, they scrupulously avoid “whining” about their own misery.
Most men’s reluctance, or inability, to recognize their need for treatment makes universal screening for paternal postpartum depression essential. In 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement urging pediatric providers to recognize and manage perinatal depression. Unfortunately, this questionnaire and screening usually only extends to the mother’s well-being, leading the AAP to urge pediatric providers to “consider screening the partners as well,” but often not until the six-month well-baby visit.
Sadly, this lack of paternal screening by primary care doctors isn’t acceptable when recognizing and treating paternal depression, often viewing it as an optional add-on to maternal screenings. Healthcare providers must screen parenting partners equally, regardless of gender or marital status, and make appropriate referrals for needed care.
How is postpartum depression in dads treated?
Once the signs of paternal postnatal depression have been recognized in a new dad, postpartum depression help is available. PPD shares most characteristics of the more generalized sorts of depressive health conditions. So recognized depression treatments, like psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy or social support therapy with support groups, or medications, like antidepressants such as serotonin uptake inhibitors, can typically be used to treat PPD. Complementary, holistic practices like exercise, acupuncture, self-care, massage, and a well-rounded diet can also be beneficial in alleviating depression.
If you or someone you know may be experiencing perinatal depression, you can always contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service’s (SAMHSA) helpline for urgent information and support.
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