Many people are unaware of a very real type of depression that occurs after a new baby is born into a family. We’re not talking about postpartum depression that affects mothers after childbirth. It’s postpartum depression in dads, known as paternal postpartum depression (PPPD) or paternal postnatal depression (PPND). This type of depression occurs due to a combination of biological and emotional changes taking place in new dads, and can be just as serious as the postpartum depression that new moms experience.
Who is affected by paternal postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is something that is often discussed by healthcare providers and the media alike. It is triggered by the severe change in hormones new moms experience during pregnancy and immediately following childbirth, coupled with many emotional and lifestyle transformations that occur when a new baby arrives. Men suffer from paternal postpartum depression for many of the same reasons but it is less publicized. Perhaps the silence is due to men’s societal role as strong, tough and unaffected by emotions. But as anyone who has experienced emotional or mental illness can attest, keeping it inside is the worst way to handle the problem.
Paternal postpartum depression can begin during pregnancy and extend for years after becoming a father. A report from the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that 10% of new dads experience this type of depression between early pregnancy and the first six months with their baby. But 26% of men experience depression between three and six months, which is double the typical rate in men. Paternal postpartum depression is twice as likely to occur in men whose wives have postpartum depression and is more likely in men who are predisposed to general depression. Unfortunately many cases of postpartum depression in dads go unreported because men are not forthcoming with their condition.
Why does postpartum depression in dads occur?
Surprisingly, men have hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and after childbirth as well. No, they are not physically growing a baby inside their bodies, but they are very much part of the emotional experience of having a baby. Studies show that testosterone lowers and estrogen increases in fathers after the birth of their baby. Along with these hormone shifts, some fathers develop fears and anxieties over caring for a newborn, especially when the baby is extremely fussy, their marriage is suffering and no one in the household is getting enough sleep.
Dads find themselves asking these questions: Am I adequate at meeting the immediate needs of my baby? Why is my baby crying when I’m doing everything I know to do? Will my life ever be normal again? Why do I feel so out of control? Will I ever get to practice my hobbies and see my friends again? Will my wife love me the same now that she has this new baby in her life? Can I support my growing family? Why does this come so easy for my wife and not for me? Sometimes (and for some, for the first time in their lives) men feel incompetent in their newfound role as a father and the stress overwhelms them to the point of depression.
How to handle postpartum depression in dads?
Doctors and other medical caregivers talk about postpartum depression with new moms but dads are often overlooked. When dads show signs of paternal postpartum depression, including personality shifts, over-indulgence in vices, panic attacks, becoming a work-a-holic, and loss of interest in previous activities he enjoyed, it’s time to take action. The best coping strategies include getting help from a professional, whether it is a primary care physician, therapist or someone else with experience in postpartum depression, as well as talking to your spouse and friends and taking care of yourself. Many men feel more comfortable seeking help anonymously or through online resources like the Sad Daddy website. Sometimes medication is required to get dads back on track after paternal postpartum depression strikes.
When untreated, paternal postpartum depression can spiral into depression in every aspect of a man’s life. It can cause major rifts in marriages and disrupt the physical and financial wellbeing of the family. Additionally, depression affects the way in which a father bonds with his baby. The early years of life are crucial for connecting with children and setting emotional tones for their future.
It is important for those around men experiencing postpartum depression to encourage their loved one to talk through their feelings, even if it doesn’t come naturally to him. Just like postpartum depression in women, parental postpartum depression is not his fault and the onset is often uncontrollable. However, the outcome can be controlled when new dads seek the help they need.