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Postpartum Depression in Dads

When most people hear the term “postpartum depression,” they usually associate it with new mothers. Indeed, perinatal depression, the occurrence of a depressive disorder during pregnancy or in the 12 months following the baby’s birth (postpartum depression), is one of the most common complications for mothers during pregnancy and after childbirth.

But mothers aren’t the only ones who can develop postpartum depression: Fathers also can experience depression during pregnancy as well as postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression affects a significant number of new fathers. Studies suggest that postpartum depression may affect as many as 10 percent of new dads and possibly even more. If a new father’s depression goes untreated, it can adversely affect his entire family. Fortunately, postpartum depression in new dads can be treated successfully, paving the way for nurturing healthier babies and growing healthier families.

What Causes Postpartum Depression in New Fathers?

New fathers may experience postpartum depression at any time during the first year after their baby’s birth, but it occurs most frequently when the baby is 3 to 6 months old. Multiple factors may contribute to paternal postpartum depression, such as:

  • Personal or family history of depression

  • Marriage or relationship difficulties

  • Depression in the baby’s mother

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Changes in the couple’s relationship

  • Feeling disconnected from the mother and baby

  • Experiencing jealousy over the bond between mother and baby

  • Difficulty adjusting to parenthood

  • Lack of family or social support

  • Financial or work-related stress

Like new mothers, new fathers also experience hormonal changes during pregnancy and after the birth of their baby. These hormonal changes are thought to be nature’s way of helping build a stronger attachment between father and baby. For example, levels of testosterone—a hormone associated with aggression—may decline in new fathers, helping to create a more sympathetic, engaged parent. However, these hormonal changes also may contribute to postpartum depression in new dads.

Our new How Fathers Can Support the Postpartum Mom Tear Pad
encourages dads to take time for themselves and seek help if needed.

What Are Signs of Postpartum Depression in Fathers?

Signs of depression in men may appear different from those in women. Some common symptoms of paternal postpartum depression include:

  • Frustration, irritability, anger, or aggression

  • Spending more time or less time at work

  • Withdrawing from family or friends

  • Loss of interest in work or favorite activities and hobbies

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches

  • Substance abuse, including alcohol and prescription drugs

  • Feeling hopeless or overwhelmed

What Are Potential Consequences of Paternal Depression?

Depression in fathers can have negative consequences for the entire family. It may increase conflict with a father’s partner. A depressed dad is less likely to support his partner’s commitment to breastfeed their baby and more likely to engage in domestic violence. Fathers with depression may be less sensitive and more hostile toward their children and less attentive to their baby’s health and healthcare visits. Dads with depression also are more likely to spank their children and less likely to interact in positive ways with them, such as reading or singing to them. By the time they are preschool age, children whose fathers experience depression are at higher risk for delays in their social, emotional, and behavioral health.

How Is Postpartum Depression Treated?

Paternal postpartum depression can be effectively treated. Treatment may include psychotherapy (talk therapy) such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help new fathers manage their thoughts and feelings in a positive way, and interpersonal therapy, which focuses on communication and decision-making skills to help handle the stress and relationship changes a new baby can bring. Medication and educational programs may also be recommended.

Getting Help

Like new mothers, new fathers are experiencing enormous life changes and pressures, but they may be less likely to admit they have postpartum depression or seek help. However, if you are a new father experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, or if you observe them in a new father, seek help from your healthcare professional. Effective treatment is available.

Learn More About Our Fatherhood Education Resources

Discover more educational resources from Childbirth Graphics about fatherhood and parenting by visiting our Fatherhood and Parenting sections.

The information contained in this article is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. If you have any questions, please contact your healthcare professional.

©2020 Childbirth Graphics®