Postpartum Depression: Dads Get It, Too

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The mental and physical strain of having a baby can have deeper effects on more than just mom. Dads can suffer from their own version of postpartum depression: paternal postnatal depression, or PPND.

Scientists estimate that 10.4 percent of new fathers experience PPND. Although an estimated 70 to 80 percent of women suffer some level of postpartum depression, the risks and signs of this clinical condition are equally important to men — as they provide emotional support for the birth mother and as they learn to take care of themselves in the father role.

Signs of PPND are similar to non-birth related depression and include

  • Difficulty sleeping (even when the baby’s quiet)

  • Fatigue

  • Feeling sad or down

  • Irritability

  • Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities

  • Loss of appetite

The incidence of depression in new fathers reaches its peak when the baby is between 3 and 6 months old. Months of sleep deprivation can take their toll by changing the healthy balance of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. This imbalance can cause depression.

Depression raises the risk that the crucial bond between a father and his baby won’t occur because the dad’s depression will cause him to withdraw. This lack of paternal attention could have a long-lasting, negative impact on the child’s emotional development.

Because PPND can be devastating for dad and baby alike, it’s important for prospective fathers to be proactive in assessing whether or not they’re at risk for depression so they can take steps to prevent it before it wreaks havoc on the family. Men are at higher risk for suffering from PPND if they

  • Are anxious about their ability to be a good father

  • Are caring for an infant with health problems

  • Are disappointed about the baby’s gender

  • Are having trouble meeting financial obligations because of the extra expense associated with pregnancy and having a new baby

  • Aren’t the baby’s biological father

  • Aren’t married to the mother

  • Didn’t want to become a father

  • Don’t feel they’re a part of the newly developing connection between the mother and child

  • Have a spouse or partner who is depressed

  • Have relationship problems with the baby’s mother

  • Have a poor relationship with his parents or the mother’s parents

  • Have suffered from depression before

  • Lack a supportive social network

If you’re a man who’s at greater risk for PPND, take parenting classes or seek couples or individual counseling before the baby arrives.

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