Recognizing Paternal Postpartum Depression

While most of us are aware of the risks of postpartum depression (PPD) in new moms, it may surprise you to know that dads are at risk, too! And why not? Life with a newborn baby is HARD work, usually managed on very little sleep. Read on for more information.
by Gayle Trent

Why are dads depressed?

Most of us associate postpartum depression with women, but studies show men also suffer from the "baby blues." After the initial joy and excitement of becoming a father, the reality of sleepless nights, feeling left out of the mother/baby connection and dealing with added stresses from parents, in-laws and his spouse can lead a dad to become depressed.

"The life changes for a new dad are enormous," says Nada Stotland, MD, of Rush Medical Center in Chicago. "Just thinking about the costs of raising the kid to 21, maybe for life, can be terrifying." Stotland says that first-time dads have the greatest risk for developing postpartum depression.

The statistics vary. Some state that over 1,000 new dads in the United States become depressed, while other studies predict 2,700 new dads become depressed every day. Either way, that’s a lot of dads suffering from paternal postnatal depression (PPND). 

What are the risk factors?

Will Courtenay, PhD, a licensed clinical social worker and member of the clinical faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School has developed a website specifically for PPND. The site is Dr Courtenay provides risk factors for PPND. A few are as follows: 

  • Lack of sleep
  • Personal history of depression
  • Poor relationship with spouse
  • Excess stress about becoming a father
  • Lack of support from others
  • Economic problems
  • Mom has postpartum depression 

Dr Courtenay reports that up to half of men whose partners have postpartum depression are depressed themselves. Dr Courtenay’s website has an assessment test for men to determine whether or not they might have PPND. 

James F. Paulson, PhD, of the Center for Pediatric Research at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, believes male postpartum depression may have more negative effects on some aspects of a child’s development than a mother’s postpartum depression. "Both moms and dads who were depressed were significantly less likely to engage in interactions such as reading, telling stories and singing songs to their infants." This is likely to have a more negative affect due to the isolation between father and child. 

How can you help?

Since the man’s spouse is the likeliest person to notice any behavioral changes, how can a concerned wife bring up the topic of postpartum depression in men? Terrance Real, a couples therapist and the author of "I Don't Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression," suggests letting him know that a lot of men suffer from post-baby blues. Assure him there is no stigma attached to depression in men.

Some ways to alleviate stress for both parents are: 

  • Design a financial plan to budget expected baby-related expenses.
  • Devise ways to share duties. Dad can become more involved and feel less "out of the loop" by handling an evening or morning feeding with formula or pumped breast milk.
  • Hire a sitter or ask a family member to stay with the baby once a week so mom and dad can have some quiet time together.
  • Try to get regular exercise.
  • Talk with a mental health care professional or join a support group.

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Tags: ppd ppnd

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