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For Dads

The Dads’ Corner - Paternal Postpartum Depression

Most perinatal and postpartum information and research efforts have focused on the mother’s health, but taking a whole family health approach means involving the father as an integral part of any new family. Men currently having children are expected to be much more involved with their infants – and their partners - than their own fathers are likely to have been, but information and support available for new and expectant dads has been fairly limited. As a result, new dads commonly feel caught between feeling as if they should be doing more without having a clear sense of how to go about it.

The birth of a child is often the most stressful event related to children that couples face, and marital satisfaction often takes a hit for the first year or so. Men often rely on their partners for the majority of their support, but when their partner is already working to manage her own transition, new fathers are often hesitant to talk with their partners about a variety of common issues that new dads experience.

Click here to read the article: Toward A Whole Family Perspective on Reproductive Mental Health: Paternal Postpartum Depression by Daniel B. Singley, Ph.D.

Common Concerns for New Dads

  • Losing personal independence
  • Feeling out of control
  • Managing work/life balance
  • Experiencing the joy of being a dad along with anxiety about the new role
  • Guilt about how much time mom needs to spend with baby
  • Jealousy that the baby might be more bonded to mom
  • Anxiety about finances, work/life balance, sleep deprivation
  • Nervous about sharing concerns with mom so as not to stress her out

Men are typically socialized to do, not to feel – and definitely not to express their feelings by talking or showing vulnerability. For this reason, when new or expectant dads become stressed or depressed, their own experience and how they express themselves often look very different than it does for new moms.

Paternal Postpartum Depression

Depending on the study, men’s postpartum depression rates range between 4-25%. The most common figure is that 1 in 10 dads suffer from postpartum depression, meaning that 10% of fathers become depressed at some point between their partner’s first trimester and the first year after delivery. Men with depressed partners are more likely to be depressed, so it’s critically important that moms with PPD are aware that their partners have an elevated risk as well.

Men express emotions differently than women. Rather than tears of obvious expressions of sadness or loss, common symptoms of paternal postpartum depression include:

  • Anger
  • Blaming others
  • Drinking
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawing/ Social Isolation
  • Insomnia
  • Not taking joy in activities
  • Overworking
  • Acting defensive or combative

Postpartum anxiety is not as widely discussed as depression and consequently the prevalence data for men are not as solid, but the stress of managing the transition to father has been show to result in significantly elevated anxiety in up to 10% on new fathers. Symptoms can include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Worry
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Compulsions

Moms and dads need to be aware that post-partum issues are very much a men’s issue but that the prospect of seeking help tends to be very difficult for men because they aren’t socialized to deal with their feelings or to readily accept help.

Tips to Keep New Dads Involved and Healthy

Men like lists and things to do. They develop the confidence to stay involved with their babies by getting clear input about how to care for baby including bathing, soothing, bottle feeding, burping, swaddling, etc.

If dad has a crying baby, rather than hand her/him back to mom, have him run down this list of check points:

  • Dirty diaper
  • Gas - needs burping
  • Hungry/thirsty
  • Jonesing for a binky
  • Environment too hot/cold - change clothes
  • Swaddled
  • Sick/has a fever or rash
  • Overtired - needs a nap
  • Either overstimulated or understimulated

Set up a weekly 15 minute time to check in with each other about how you’re doing. This doesn’t need to be a gushing display of feelings, but each partner should leave the check-in understanding how the other is doing in terms of being a new parent and partner. Doing so is a great way to stay proactive about communication and keep the relationship strong.

Don’t expect dads to express emotions or ask for help in the same way that women often do. Pay attention to what they do.

Mom and dad both need “me” time to recharge. New dads might not have much practice in setting up times to hang out with friends, so helping them to do so – and to feel good about it – is good for the whole family