New dads can get the baby blues, too

November 15, 2018 | by Linda Huelke-Pfleger, LCPC

We’ve heard about postpartum blues, often called “baby blues,” affecting new moms. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) affect up to 1 in 5 women during pregnancy and after giving birth. But studies show perinatal depression and anxiety affects 1 in 10 fathers, too.

Research suggests that during the perinatal period — from pregnancy to a year after childbirth — more than 10 percent of fathers experience depression and anxiety.

A 2014 study published in Pediatrics found that depression among new dads increases by 68 percent during the first five years of fatherhood. By the time their child is 12 years of age, more than one-fifth of fathers have experienced depression.

Like moms, new dads must adjust to major life changes with the arrival of a baby. Both parents may wonder when and if they’ll ever get some semblance of their old lives back. They can feel trapped, anxious, helpless and out of control.

Depression in new dads often looks different than it does in moms. Men are more likely to avoid emotional expression, deny vulnerability, and not seek help. Some red flags for postpartum depression and anxiety in fathers are:

  • Starts working longer hours, distancing himself from the family
  • Low mood, irritability, agitation, anger
  • Engages in risky behaviors (e.g., abusing alcohol or drugs, gambling)
  • Loss of interest in sex or activities he once enjoyed
  • Sleep disturbances (e.g., trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • Shortness of breath, heart palpitations
  • Panic attacks

The best predictor for depression in new dads is depression in moms. Half of all men whose partners have perinatal depression and anxiety are depressed and anxious themselves.

Why do new dads get anxious and/or depressed? A personal or family history of depression or anxiety, sleep deprivation and fluctuating hormones may play a role. Studies show that a man's hormones shift during his wife’s pregnancy and after she gives birth, for reasons that are still unknown. Lower testosterone may make men more vulnerable to depression.

PPPD may also be more prevalent now because dads are taking a more hands-on role in the family, and shouldering more of the responsiblities that traditionally fell to women. Same-sex partners are affected too. Still, some mental health experts question whether what fathers experience is truly postpartum depression, but rather depression that happens during the postpartum period.

Regardless, paternal mental health problems affect the whole family and need to be taken seriously. What can new dads do to ease the transition into fatherhood?

  • Talk about what’s going on with their partner.
  • Share in the parenting duties, as this can lower feelings of isolation and instill confidence.
  • Get help from a mental health professional if needed. Talk therapy and medication can do wonders, and there’s no shame in it.
  • Exercise regularly, eat well, get enough sleep (trade off with your partner), and find ways to reduce stress.
  • If his employer offers paternity leave, take it.

New parents can take comfort in realizing is that the newborn phase may feel unending, but it doesn’t last forever. In the meantime, help is available.

Explore behavioral health resources, or call 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

Edward-Elmhurst Health offers a Daddy Boot Camp, a three-hour father-to-father workshop led by a Master Coach with the assistance of experienced fathers and their new babies. Expectant fathers will gain confidence as they observe or maybe have hands-on-opportunities to comfort a baby, change a diaper, and swaddle a baby. To learn more, please call 630-527-7685 or register now.

Related blogs:

Postpartum depression can happen to anyone (even you)

10 ways to help Dad become an expert baby handler

Why date night matters after kids

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