After years of believing that only new mums could get postpartum depression, the world is becoming increasingly aware that new dads suffer postpartum depression, too.
While the general population is much more aware of mental health issues as a whole, there is still plenty of work to be done on recognising postpartum depression and anxiety in men.
Whether you're a new dad who is struggling mentally at the moment, or you're a concerned partner looking for answers, we've put together this comprehensive guide on postpartum depression to help you identify the symptoms, how it affects dads in particular, and what you can do to help.
Table Of Contents
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression, also referred to as 'postnatal depression' is form of depression that parents can experience in the months after their baby is born. Depression itself is a mental illness that negatively impacts a person's general mood, the way they feel and the way they behave.
It was long believed that postpartum depression only occurred in new mums, related to the hormonal changes they experience as a result of pregnancy and birth. However, it has become increasingly recognised that dads and partners can also get postpartum depression. So much so that it has given rise to the term 'paternal postpartum depression' or 'paternal postnatal depression'.
Most parents tend to get postpartum depression during the 'postpartum period'. This refers to the early stages of their baby's life. Women tend to start suffering from postpartum depression in the first 4-6 weeks after birth but can take as long as three months. New dads, however, tend to see some paternal postpartum depression when their baby is 3-6 months olds. For most parents, postpartum depression symptoms start to alleviate by the end of the first year.
Research suggests that dads-to-be are also at increased risk of suffering depression symptoms, also known as 'prenatal depression' or 'perinatal depression' This tends to happen during the first trimester of pregnancy.
How many dads get postpartum depression?
According to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), the number of dads who suffer with depression and anxiety in the first year of their child's life is double the figure for the general population.
Incredibly, considering few people knew paternal postpartum depression existed a relatively short time ago, research suggests as many as 25% of new dads will experience depression symptoms in the first year. And 10-12% will receive a formal diagnosis. Interestingly, research conducted in Sweden in 2017 found that the tools used to detect postpartum depression in women are not as effective for men, leading to the consensus that real figures are higher.
The issue, however, is that paternal postnatal depression often goes undiagnosed and even unnoticed. So the real figure may be higher.
The NCT's research suggests really interesting risk factors that indicate some men are more likely to get paternal postnatal depression than others. First time dads are more likely to suffer mental health problems than dads having a subsequent child. And dads under the age of 25 are more likely to suffer paternal depression that their more senior counterparts.
What are postpartum depression symptoms?
Many people don't realise they might be suffering with postpartum depression because the symptoms are so similar to the every day stresses of raising a new baby.
If you are suffering from postpartum depression, you may just notice changes in your mental health but there can also be physical symptoms, too. And as depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, you may experience some anxiety symptoms as well.
Here are some of the most common symptoms:
You don't need to experience all of these symptoms to be suffering from depression. You may notice just a few mild symptoms, or you could experience most or even all of them. The most serious cases are considered to be when a person considers self-harming or is having suicidal thoughts.
While most of the symptoms cross over with depression that anyone can have, there are naturally some that apply to postpartum depression, or might specifically relate to new parents.
If you have experienced some of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have postpartum depression and should seek treatment. Contact your doctor or a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Seek urgent medical attention if:
Having thoughts of harming your baby can be extremely concerning. However, a very small percentage of parents who have thoughts of harming their child actually go ahead an inflict harm.
As this dad explains, it is quite easy to become frustrated as a new parent:
""I was surprised how frustrated I got with him. The important thing is not to take out the frustrations on the kid. If I ever felt like that, I'd take myself out of the situation. Quite literally - I'd put him down in a safe place and just decompress for a moment."
Regardless, it is still very important to seeking attention ASAP if you have these thoughts.
Why do men get paternal postpartum depression?
Although there are certain risk factors, as discussed earlier, paternal depression can be indiscriminate. Even those who spend time working on their mental health before the birth of their new baby can succumb to postpartum depression.
Raising a child is incredibly hard work and has an almost indescribable impact on your life. While that's a reality for all new parents, there are a number of reasons why new dads might get paternal depression.
Sleep deprivation is considered to be a given for new parents, and is probably the one thing all dads-to-be expect to come their way. It's quite difficult to really prepare for the levels of exhaustion you'll feel after your baby is born.
We all know that sleep is important to our overall physical and mental health - sleep enables us brains and our bodies to rest, recover and prepare for a new days. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), there is a close link between sleep deprivation and depression. It impacts our ability to control emotions, concentration, problem solving, maintain hormone levels, our overall mood. It's also essential for physical aspects like the health of our cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Becoming a parent is a huge psychological adjustment for any person.
Many new dads struggle to identify, understand and adapt to their new role. While we know that more and more dads are becoming actively involved in the day-to-day upbringing of their children, the postnatal period still creates uncertainty for new dads (especially if mum is breastfeeding).
With many new fathers returning to work after two weeks of parental leave, we are effectively forced into these stereotypical roles of what fathers and mothers should do.
Fortunately, there is a wider societal shift towards enabling dads to be the parents they want to be. However, we are still very early on that journey and there is still a long way to go.
Another reality of having a baby is that it dramatically changes your relationships, whether that's the family structure, your friendships and romantic relationship.
According to research, couples with children are less likely to be satisfied in their marital relationships than those without children. It's unsurprising given that having a baby impacts a couple's protective factors. A protective factor is a condition that enables or promotes health and wellbeing of families. Communication, intimacy and time together are some of the main protective factors that take a considerable hit after having a baby.
Some dads will also struggle to adapt to the new shape of the relationship with friends, especially if they are first in their friendship group to have a baby. You may feel isolated from your friends, unable to join them for social occasions, or left out entirely. Some parents find that because they need to decline invites more often, the invites stop altogether. Or you may struggle to relate to your friends who are suddenly at totally different places in their lives.
Health care providers visit your home in the days and weeks after birth to check on baby's health. Although they are primarily their to check on baby, they will also check on Mum and offer postpartum support.
And while things are shifting as awareness of male postpartum depression increases, new fathers are often left out of those early conversations and left without any postpartum support.
Support from friends and family is important too. If you don't have a close relationship with your own father or you're the only dad in your friend group, you may not feel like you can get postpartum support from other dads.
This can result in men feeling isolated during a turbulent and challenging time.
Unfortunately, your own personal history with mental health and your family history can leave you with an increased risk of developing postpartum depression.
Naturally, if you have suffered depression and anxiety before becoming a father, you are more likely to suffer paternal depression in the months postpartum. Equally, if members of your family (especially own fathers) had postpartum depression, then I'm afraid you are at an increased risk.
Research also shows that men whose partners are suffering from postpartum depression are more likely to experience depression themselves. In fact, anywhere between a quarter and half of dads whose partners have postpartum depression will get it, too.
Is there a difference between maternal postpartum depression and paternal postpartum depression?
While the cores symptoms of depression and anxiety tend to be the same for men and women, there are nuances when it comes to postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.
Male postpartum depression and anxiety is more likely to be linked to financial worries, difficulties coping with babies crying, sleep deprivation, feelings of guilt, and feeling unsupported by partners or the breakdown of the relationship with the mother.
How can I help my postpartum depression?
Awareness of your own mental health and recognising that you have (or may have) male postpartum depression is a huge first step.
Once you have recognised that your mental health is suffering, there are a number of steps you can take to get better.
As we mentioned in the 'symptoms' section, you should speak your doctor or health care providers as soon as you've identified that you might have postpartum depression and anxiety.
Once you have made contact, you will likely be put in touch with a mental health professional who will be able to assess your depression and advise on the best way forward.
Remember you recognise any of the following, you should seek urgent medical assistance:
Suicidal thoughts or self-harming
Thoughts of harming your baby
Develop delusion beliefs or start seeing or hearing things that aren't real
Numerous studies have found that men are far less likely than women to talk about their feelings and their mental health. However, there is more awareness of just how important it is for men to talk.
As this dad explains, talking is a hugely important part of enabling yourself to be the best dad possible: "My partner being pregnant was the catalyst for me to get therapy - to some out some issues. There was a lot of clutter in my mind that I wanted to sort. A lot of it was driven by my own experiences with my father that needed some help to get clarity on, as I was about to be a dad myself."
Being open and honest about how you're feeling is especially important on the journey to recover from male postpartum depression. Some dads feel they can't talk to their partners about how they're feeling because they don't want to add to their partner's concerns and stresses. However, your partner is the one person in the world who knows exactly what you're going through on a daily basis.
Whoever it is - friends, family, colleagues or a therapist - just talk.
Join a dad group
There are a growing number of in-person dad and baby groups around the world. Not only does it get you out of the house, it provides you with some all-important one-on-one bonding time with your baby.
Joining one also gives you access to a new community of other dads who may well be going through the exact same things you are now. They're a magnificent a source of social support and advice. It can be so reassuring to hear how other fathers cope day-to-day.
Of course, there are also online dad communities - like the DaddiLife Community - and online resources that can offer similar support in a virtual world.
P.S. Your partner will definitely appreciate the free time to have a relax, and it might ease some relationship problems you may have been experiencing.
Although we generally think of skin-to-skin contact for the hours and days immediately after the birth of your baby, it's a fantastic way of helping to develop a close bond between father and child.
If you're struggling to feel that connection with your baby, start spending some one-on-one, skin-to-skin time with your baby. Don't expect fireworks straight away. Just start little and often and build it up.
Spend time with your partner
It's incredibly easy for new parents to become totally and utterly absorbed by their new life as... parents. A lot of parents struggle with losing their individual identities and forgetting how to be a romantic couple.
If you've got a great support network of friends and family that can babysit, make use of them to spend some time together with your partner. Go out for a meal, watch a film, something - even if just for a few hours.
Helping to solidify your romantic relationship will help you to support each other through both the day-to-day challenges you're both experiencing, as well as the long term affects of postpartum depression.
Take time for yourself
It's so important to take time for yourself. As a dad, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you have to a superhero; a pillar of strength for your new family regardless of the challenges.
And in doing so, we forget to look after ourselves. It's almost become a cliche to say 'How can expect to look after your family if you can't look after yourself?'
We all know the importance of regular exercise in maintaining positive mental health. So get out for a run, or a bike ride, hit the gym or go back to your favourite tea sport. Or maybe it's a forgotten hobby that you'd like to return to.
Taking that time for yourself not only gives you a break from stressful events at home, but helps you to maintain a sense of identity beyond being 'dad'. You should absolutely encourage your partner to do the same.
Improve your diet
For all the meal planning and batch cooking, we all know how easy it is to reach for your phone to order from your favourite takeaway app after a long, hard, stressful day when you're both sleep deprived.
But we also know how vital a good, balanced diet is in maintain good physical and mental health.
If you've noticed your diet slipping away, try to get back into cooking fresh, healthy meals. If your baby is in bed, you could even make it into a nice activity with your partner. There's something quite romantic (and dare I say sensual) about cooking together.
Male postpartum depression and child development
Unfortunately, having a depressed father is a risk factor for child development issues.
At this point, it's unlikely you need any more motivation to work on your mental health and kick postpartum depression into the long grass. However, this can be a huge motivator.
The reality is that male postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety can negatively impact their child's emotional and social development, causing behavioural problems later down the line.