Reprinted from "Men's" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (5), p. 32-33
Picture a scenario: you and your partner start sharing your life, and before you know it, there are three of you—her, you and a little screaming bundle of joy. You should be happy, the happiest dad in the world—after all, the little human creature is your flesh and blood, your successor—but instead, you feel empty inside. Why?
Postpartum depression, a term usually heard in a context of a new mother, does apply to males as well. Although this kind of depression in fathers is a debated issue—with many professionals arguing that ‘proper’ postpartum depression has a hormonal factor that doesn’t apply to males—even the opponents of the term concede that many new fathers experience the ‘baby blues’ during the first months after the birth of a child. While these changes are not triggered by the physiological processes in the father’s body, they can nevertheless have consequences as serious as a mother’s postpartum depression.
Depending on the definition of depression used, various studies and surveys show depressive symptoms in new fathers ranging from 2%1 to 9%,2 to a whopping 49%.3 A significantly higher level of symptoms is observed in big, urban areas, or in the cases of being a stepfather or a single mother’s partner.4 The signs of postpartum depression are:
feelings of overwhelming responsibility and fear of failure
loss of sleep and appetite
withdrawal, disregard to personal hygiene
feelings of sadness and emptiness
inability to concentrate, irritability, restlessness
loss of sex drive
physical aches and pains
There are many factors contributing to a new father’s mood impairment. Some of them are associated with the new responsibilities fathers face, such as having to provide income for the partner and the baby,6 and the anxieties about the social role of a father.7 Other strong sources of paternal worries: the health and well-being of the mother and the child, the changes in relationships between a husband and a wife, and, upon the arrival of the next generation, the realization of one’s own mortality.6 This stress is often further complicated by social stereotypes of a male, who is supposed to ‘be strong’; the new father is unlikely to share his concerns with others.
Although most fathers will experience some kind of anxiety during the first year after the birth of a child, the severity of the symptoms can be significantly decreased through maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Distress can be alleviated through social support and through interaction with the baby. Psychologists suggest that mothers encourage fathers to talk to the baby before the birth, let them touch Mom’s belly to feel the baby kick, and allow fathers to spend time alone with the baby as much as possible after the pregnancy.
Fathers should be encouraged to continue their previous hobbies, exercise and maintain a healthy diet. Foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, milk and bananas, as well as foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such as lake trout and salmon, will increase the levels of the ‘feelgood hormone’ serotonin. Similarly, it is believed that a high-fibre diet decreases stress levels and leads to a more positive attitude.
Furthermore, a new father’s increased social interaction, such as sharing experiences with other fathers, might prove to be very useful, while others suggest that sharing the feelings with the mother is always the best solution.7 It is important, however, to also be mindful of the mother’s mental health—as research shows, the partners of fathers with a postpartum depression are two or three times more likely to also suffer from a postpartum mood disorder, compared to the partners of fathers who are not distressed.
Unfortunately, these preventative measures are not always successful. If symptoms persist, the new father should consult his family doctor or mental health professional. In some cases, antidepressant medications, counselling and psychotherapy may be necessary. To some, these measures may seem far-fetched, but they are a very small price to pay for bringing joy and understanding into new-family life.
About the Author
Laurynas is an undergraduate film and political science co-op student from Simon Fraser University. He currently works in the Public Education Department of Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division
Matthey, S., Barnett, B., Howie, P. et al. (2003). Diagnosing postpartum depression in mothers and fathers: Whatever happened to anxiety? Journal of Affective Disorders, 74(2), 139-147.
Ballard, C.G., Davis, R., Cullen, P.C. et al. (1994). Prevalence of postnatal psychiatric morbidity in mothers and fathers. British Journal of Psychiatry, 164(6), 782-788.
Dudley, M., Poy, K., Kelk, N. et al. (2001). Psychological correlates of depression in fathers and mothers in the first postnatal year. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 19(3), 187-202.
Miller, K. (1998). Depression in men before and after the birth of a child. American Family Physician, 58(7), 1670.
Ewing, S. (2004). When men get the baby blues. Retrieved February 9, 2005, from www.handbag.com/family/health/maledepression
Shapiro, J.L. Seven fears expectant fathers face. Retrieved February 9, 2005, from www.babycenter.com/refcap/pregnancy/expectingdads/8247.html
Kleiman, K. Ask the experts: Can men get the postpartum blues? Retrieved February 9, 2005, from www.babycenter.com/expert/dadsbaby/ 3870.html