With the current focus on the all-too-common occurrences of postpartum depression among new moms, many dads already know that postpartum depression is a condition that may affect mom. But what they often don’t realize is that postpartum depression is a condition that is becoming increasingly common among dads.
This condition, referred to as Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) affects approximately 1 in 10 men, with some statistics as high as 1 in 4. Being informed about paternal postnatal depression, and learning to identify some of the common risk factors, can help couples think ahead and plan a preventive strategy. The steps you take now can help ensure that the transition of welcoming baby into home and family is a delightful one.
This is one of the major bugaboos and risk factors for Paternal Postnatal Depression. Expectant mothers and fathers often anticipate that the arrival of a new baby will infuse their home and relationship with boundless bliss. While a new baby is indeed a blessing and a cause for celebration, be careful about how much you are expecting out of the little one as a vehicle for your own personal fulfillment and mood-makeover. Paradoxically, you will enjoy your baby more when you’re not expecting him to uplift you, fulfill you, or repair a troubled relationship.
The happiest parents are often the ones who, rather than trying to maintain the status quo of their pre-baby lives, completely abandon themselves to parenthood. At first it feels scary, like a loss of one’s sense of self, but for moms and dads who let the wave of parenthood carry them along, many find that the experience redefines them in the best way. Not getting as much accomplished as you once did? Some of your hobbies taking a backseat? Don’t fear—you’ll have time for them again. Let yourself be totally immersed in being a parent.
Many dads report that they never could have anticipated the impact of sleep deprivation on their life and mood. This factor alone constitutes a significant risk for Paternal Postnatal Depression. Trying to help mom out at night and then putting in a full day at work can leave men with feelings of desperation, despair, irritability, and resentment. As important as planning the nursery where your baby will sleep is making a plan for how you will sleep. Many couples find that overnight care from a postpartum doula is a lifesaver—giving mom and dad time to rejuvenate for the full-time task of caring for a newborn.
Men can experience the kind of isolation that puts them at risk for PPND in two ways. First, many men feel isolated from their partners when her attention is naturally more focused on the baby. Decreased affection, shared time, and frequency of sex with his partner can leave a man feeling isolated and thus at risk of depression. Secondly, men may see their social circles changing as they become fathers and many of their friends perhaps remain single or childless. Men’s natural tendency to talk less about their struggles with each other only exacerbates the problem.
Men who already experience depression, or who have in the past, are going to be at greater risk for PPND. Studies have also shown that men who experienced a very troubled relationship with their own father bring fears and insecurity to their own experience as a parent. This, in turn, can be the impetus for a cycle of depression. Think about your own history—do you have a history of depression or addictive coping mechanisms? Was your own father a role model for you to emulate?
If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy
Occurrence of PPND increases among men whose wives also struggle with the condition. However, dad’s symptoms may not manifest until weeks or months later. Dad may recognize mom’s symptoms of postpartum depression and become wholly focused on trying to support her without recognizing the increase in his own risk.
What to do?
The first step for expectant parents is to recognize that depression and mood disorders can often accompany a major life transition—like the birth of a baby. And it isn’t just first-time parents that get the baby blues or who will suffer postpartum depression. Repeat parents are susceptible as well.
Successful parenting starts with a plan
Look at the risk factors for postnatal depression listed above and talk to each other about how you will navigate the challenges you will face as new parents. While it isn’t possible to fully predict how you will react and adjust to your new little one, honest conversations and practical measures can go a long way towards avoiding some of the pitfalls.
Combat isolation and fear by seek out community groups for new parents and online support forums. Sleep deprivation and a general sense of overwhelm is common—consider hiring a postpartum doula to support your family in transition and to provide some overnight care. Enlist your trusted family and friends—let them serve you. This isn’t selfish … it’s smart. Don’t forget to take care of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs—your baby needs you rested and well. Even a short walk to clear your head can have an uplifting and re-centering effect. Make plans for how you will take care of yourself and each other. Raising children and becoming successful parents is not a magic formula or an innate skill—it takes planning, education, and support.
Postnatal depression is a reality for many dads, but it doesn’t have to be—take steps now, even before bringing baby home, to ensure that the experience of becoming a new parent will be a happy and healthy one for baby, mom, and dad.
Editorial provided by Jacki Christopher, Communications Associate for Welcome Baby Care, LLC, the Twin Cities leader in Postpartum Home Care.