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Can Dads Develop Postpartum Depression?

by Dianna Graveman | January 29, 2012 3:42 PM
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Most people have heard of postpartum depression in women, defined as a sometimes serious illness that can make a new mother feel sad and hopeless. The symptoms can occur within the first weeks or months after birth and, in some cases, last for several months up to a year. Postpartum sufferers may have extreme mood swings, feel overwhelmed, cry often, and lose sleep. Some report feeling they are "not good enough" or have trouble bonding with their babies. Usually, the symptoms fade on their own, but if they do not--or if the depression seems extreme and affects the mother's ability to affectively care for her baby--she is urged to seek medical and/or psychiatric care.

Less common but just as debilitating is postpartum depression in new fathers. According to Roy Benaroch, MD (WebMD, August 12, 2011), it is possible for men to develop a version of postpartum depression. In fact, he says, experts now believe about 10 percent of new dads develop the disorder.

Men may experience some of the same symptoms as women, but often times, they exhibit different or additional behaviors like drinking alcohol to excess or--in extreme cases--engaging in extramarital affairs. Like women, they tend to be depressed and irritable, but they may also be more aggressive. They may simply "bury" themselves in their work. Since fathers obviously do not experience the physical trials and hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy and childbirth, one might wonder how or why they develop postpartum depression. In fact, in many cases, the disorder is simply overlooked or misdiagnosed in men. But according to doctors, other physical factors like sleep deprivation and worries about finances, as well as the abrupt environmental changes that can accompany new fatherhood, like shifts in the marital relationship and less time to spend as a couple, may act as triggers.

Mothers-to-be typically get more support than do expectant fathers. Books and guides for new mothers are full of explanations about the changes a woman might experience before and after her baby's birth. An abundance of material exists explaining postpartum depression in women, its symptoms, and how it is treated. Much less plentiful is information and guidance for men. In many cases, they are left to deal with it on their own, exacerbating the condition. In addition, a woman's family members and friends tend to be more forthcoming about their own experiences--offering advice and counsel for the young mother--whereas men are less likely to discuss feelings of sadness or moodiness with their buddies.

Unfortunately, according to doctors, the incidence of postpartum depression in new fathers has increased over the past several years. In 2010, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that found up to 14 percent of fathers in the United States experience postpartum depression, a figure that increases to 25 percent of fathers in the three to six months after the births of their children. However, men are less likely to seek help unless their spouses or partners encourage them to do so. Fathers may simply feel it is "normal" that they do not feel as strong an attachment to their new baby as the mother does. Maternal feelings are widely known and often discussed. Everybody knows the mom (supposedly) instantly falls in love with her baby. And while many new fathers report the same instant bond with their offspring, many do not.

Besides the obvious negative impact on a man's health and marital relationship, other reasons exist for a father to seek immediate help if symptoms occur. Studies have found that children with a depressed parent have a higher risk of developing emotional problems themselves. For children of depressed fathers, in particular, children are more likely as they grow older to behave destructively. In March 2011, a University of Michigan study reported that dads who are depressed spank their young children nearly four times more often and consistently read to their children less than half as often as fathers who show no signs of depression. If you suspect either you or your spouse is exhibiting signs of postpartum depression in the weeks or months following your child's birth, seek advice from your health care professional as soon as possible.

Dianna Graveman is a St. Louis writer, editor, educator, and mother of three. Her work has appeared in many print and online publications. Visit her website at 2RiversCommunications.com or her blog at DiannaGraveman.com.
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