Most people are aware of postpartum depression in women. But not many are aware that postnatal depression occurs in men. It even has its own acronym – PPD – paternal postnatal depression. There is a growing body of research showing that up to 25 percent of men suffer from depression in the first few months after their child is born. It can be a serious problem and needs recognition and treatment.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are similar to postpartum depression. They can include:
- Inability to bond with the baby
- Irritability, nervousness, or restlessness
- Physical symptoms
- Unwanted fears or thoughts of harming the baby
What are the causes?
Some of the causes are obvious. A man may be exhausted from loss of sleep or overwhelmed by the stress of new financial and emotional responsibilities. Research also points to other less obvious causes:
- Hormonal changes: Men may have hormonal changes that change brain chemistry. There may be a decrease in testosterone. This may be an evolutionary adaption to make men less aggressive during early parenting. However, low testosterone may also lead to depression.
- Preexisting mental health conditions: Men who have anxiety disorder, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, may have depression triggered by the stress of the pregnancy and a new baby. Men who have a history of these disorders may have double the risk of PPD.
- Maternal postpartum depression: If the mother has postpartum depression, the risk for PPD may be as high as 50 percent. Maternal postpartum depression is the biggest risk factor for PPD.
- Poor role model: Men who had a distant relationship with their father or absence of a father may be at higher risk. It may be harder for these men to bond with their child. They may feel jealous of the attention and the natural bond between the child and mother. This may lead to feelings of isolation and anger.
Why is it important to recognize PPD?
Like postpartum depression, PPD can be long lasting and can lead to major depression, especially if it is not treated. It can cause marital problems and it can be harmful to a child. Studies show that infants are stressed when one parent has depression and even more stressed if both parents have depression.
Unresponsive or chaotic parenting raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in babies. This can lead to poor psychological development. It also depresses the baby’s immune system, which can lead to more infections. Children of fathers with PPD may be at higher risk for hyperactivity and other behavioral problems, especially if the child is a boy.
What can you do to prevent or treat PPD?
The first thing you can do is be aware that PPD is a real condition. Men who have symptoms need to talk to their doctors. Treatment may include psychotherapy or medications. Research also suggests some ways PPD might be prevented:
- Get couples therapy before birth of the baby, especially if there are warning signs like previous mental health problems or increasing stress in the marriage.
- Get as much support as possible from friends and family for the postnatal period. More sleep and less stress is important for both moms and dads.
- Take paternal leave if available to spend more time at home during the postnatal period. Men who spend more time at home during this period bond better with the baby and feel less excluded.
- Encourage the dad to take on responsibilities such as changing, feeding, and bathing.
The worst thing to do is to ignore symptoms of PPD. They are real. They are not a sign of weakness. They can have serious consequences for the man, the marriage, and the baby. Talk to your health care providers. Make prevention of depression part of your prenatal care.