Post-Partum Depression in Fathers

By Pam Henderson

When a baby arrives, a parent’s world forever changes. Your heart swells bigger than you ever imagined possible, and you fall head over heels in love with your precious bundle of joy.

But, there is another side to parenthood, too, especially in those early days. When the nurses are no longer at your beck and call and loved ones leave your bedside to return to their own lives, being in charge of an 7 lb., 12 oz. human being can feel rather daunting.

Suddenly, your Circadian rhythm gets so confused that nights become days and days become nights. Even if your baby lets you sleep, you might feel like you shouldn’t just in case he or she stops breathing. You’re constantly wondering if your baby is eating enough, wearing warm enough clothes, sleeping enough, gaining enough weight. Every well-intentioned relative, neighbor and friend is giving you advice. You may feel tremendous emptiness, even though your life is tremendously full.

And, then there are the hormones. You could be laughing one minute and crying the next. Mothers – you may be surprised to learn that new fathers also go through these emotions.

Society generally understands that the birth of a baby takes a tremendous toll on a new mother. But, we’re not quite as attune to the fact that the birth of a baby takes a toll on a new father, too. Researchers have been trying for years to bring awareness to the fact that fathers have to deal with their own stuff when a new baby arrives. Involved fathers go through many of the same adjustments as mothers – sleep deprivation, self-doubt about parenting skills, worries about the added expense of diapers and formula. Just like mothers, their free time to read a book, take a hike or watch a game slip away for what initially seems like eternity.  Fathers may also be carrying with them the guilt of having to go back to work soon after the baby is born (or, maybe feeling guilty about not feeling guilty that they have to go back to work.) I’ve known a few fathers who welcomed the chance to get back to what is familiar.

More than a decade ago, the National Institutes of Health published a study about postpartum depression in men. The study’s findings indicate that in the first two months after a baby’s birth, 4 to 25 percent of men suffer from postpartum depression. Pilyoung and Swain  (2007) Researchers explain that the wide differential in occurrence is due to the fact that there is so little information about post-partum depression in fathers. Post-partum depression is usually associated with mothers, and according to the American Psychological Association, about 1 in 7 women experience it.

A Norwegian study notes a correlation between a father’s mental and emotional health and that of his children. The study claims children of fathers who are depressed during pregnancy  are more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems at age 3. Kvalevaag. Pediatrics (2013)

In another study, Michael Weitzman, MD at New York University found that depression in fathers was the single biggest predictor of depression in mothers. (2012) This information reinforces that even very young children can pick up on the emotions of his parents.

The American Psycholocial Association shares that the warning signs of depression are different for every person, but may include:

Society is making strides toward removing the stigma of mental health, but we have a long way to go. This stigma, unfortunately, can keep many parents from seeking help. Fathers may be especially prone to not seeking help. There is a tendency for them to think they have to “man up” the experts say.

To some, it may seem like the post-baby blues should just “go away” on their own. You may be able to shake off the everyday “ups and downs” of life, but depression is something more. If your feelings linger, you may do well to check in with your family physician. You won’t know how good you will feel until you do get the help of a professional. Not only does your health depend upon it – your baby’s health depends upon it.