After my children were born, my midwife told me to look out for signs of postpartum depression: anxiety, irritation, irrational fears, intense sadness… you know the ones. I answered questionnaires and read literature, educating myself on the symptoms of a disorder that affects up to 15% of women. My husband, on the other hand, was back to work before I even left the hospital with no one ever questioning his health, mental or otherwise. Sadly, too infrequently are men asked about symptoms of paternal postpartum depression.
Being self-employed on a single income, my husband’s work hours augmented exponentially in the months following our children’s births. So did his drinking and mood swings. He showed little interest in the babies during the first few months of their lives and dismissed my concerns with aggressivity. This led me to avoid the matter and tackle childcare alone, resentful and lonely.
As the children grew older, things got better, and I’m happy to report my husband’s now an engaged dad and attentive partner. However, never, at any point during my postpartum appointments, did anyone ask any question regarding my husband’s attitude.
Paternal Postpartum Stats
I first learned about paternal postpartum depression much later and came to see things in a new light. According to some recent studies, paternal postpartum depression (PPD) can affect between 4% and 25% of new fathers. For men whose partner is affected by postpartum depression, this number can rise to a staggering 50%. Besides the obvious changes in lifestyle, plus exhaustion and stress that accompany the arrival of a newborn, men also deal with changes in hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, vasopressin and prolactin.
Paternal Postpartum Signs
New dads report having issues feeling a connection with their child. Often resenting the bond between mom and baby in a breastfeeding relationship and feeling left behind. “New dads have a lot of feelings,” Jessica Holt, a postpartum doula, tells Parentology, “and they have many things they feel they can’t talk to their partner about.”
Stigma and Societal Exclusion
In addition, depressed dads face the additional stigma from society, which still sees them as the provider and a supporter first and foremost. Any failure to do so puts them a risk of being seen as a “bad dad.”
Although postpartum depression sometimes presents itself in similar ways for men and women (feelings of unworthiness, sadness, anxiety, a prolonged lowering of mood and lethargy), men also report different symptoms not always identified as depression, including an increased aggressivity towards their partner and others, risk-taking, avoidance, overworking, drinking and substance abuse.
Raising awareness of paternal postpartum depression and destigmatizing looking for help — for men and women — can help families adjusting to a new baby. Getting support early on and preemptive screening is imperative. New dads should be encouraged to talk to their doctors and reach out to a support group for new dads, if possible.
How society can help? Lobby for rights like paternal leave and postnatal care for fathers, as well as raising awareness.
Paternal Postpartum Depression — Sources
Jessica Holt, postpartum doula
Science Daily: Forgotten Fathers
Science Daily: Swing in Dad’s Testosterone Affects the Family
NCBI: Sad Dads: Paternal Postpartum Depression
The Guardian: Men Get Postnatal Depression, Too
Pacific Postpartum Support Society: Signs of PPD in Men