photo of dad holding newborn

Postpartum Depression Affects Dads, Too

July 6, 2021 – Postpartum depression isn’t just something new mothers can suffer from. It turns out that it can also affect new fathers, according to a new study.

Michael W., a 38-year-old lawyer based in New Jersey, and his wife had enthusiastically planned the birth of their baby and were delighted with the birth.

But after that, “I found parenting a newborn baby exhausting. I felt unprepared for the task, overwhelmed with the 24 hour burden and lack of sleep, and struggled with it. a feeling of inadequacy, ”he told WebMD. .

Michael never thought he was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD), possibly because the condition is more often associated with women. But a new study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health suggests that DPP also affects males.

A team of Danish investigators led by researcher Sarah Pedersen, from the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University, interviewed at length eight fathers with PPD and found that their main experiences involved feelings of overwhelming and overwhelmed. helplessness or inadequacy, which sometimes turned into anger and frustration.

Ultimately, all of the men interviewed for the study sought formal help from a health care provider, but six experienced several months of depressive symptoms before seeking or getting help.

“I think one of the most important messages to take away is that practicing clinicians working with new parents should invite fathers to your consultations and involve fathers as much as possible,” Pedersen told WebMD.

The results also contained a message for parents, she says.

“I hope you will support each other and talk about your feelings and how you are making the transition to parenthood – know that it will take time to adjust to your new role,” she says.

Not enough attention

According to Pedersen, too little has been focused on fathers when it comes to PLR.

“Over the past decade, several studies have examined the prevalence of PPD in men, and there is growing evidence that paternal PPD is associated with an increased risk of long-term adverse behavioral and emotional outcomes in men. children, ”she said.

However, only three studies were based on interviews with fathers who had personal experience with PPD.

“The purpose of our study was, first, to explore the lived experience of fathers who have had PPD and, second, to gain a deeper understanding of their help-seeking behavior – the barriers to help seeking and help seeking facilitators, ”says Pedersen.

The study was based on “semi-structured” interviews with eight Danish fathers (aged 29-38) who had had PPD, none of whom had a history of depression.

All participants had been formally diagnosed with PPD by a general practitioner or psychologist, and all had sought or received mental health care and considered themselves to be cured of depression at the time of the interview.

The researchers used a technique called interpretive phenomenological analysis to analyze the interviews.

This method “aims to produce in-depth examinations of certain phenomena by examining how individuals make sense of their own life experiences,” the authors wrote.

A radical change”

Of the fathers, five described the pregnancy period as a “period of happiness, full of positive expectations of fatherhood.”

But “the high expectations of fathers were then replaced by a very different reality of fatherhood,” the authors wrote, noting that the transition to fatherhood was, in the words of one participant, a “radical change that you won’t. just can not imagine. “

Most of the fathers expressed feeling overwhelmed and three did not feel ready for the task, which made their depression worse.

“The participants wanted to be emotionally and physically present in their child’s life, but during the time of their depression, those kindly intentions turned into feelings of guilt and inadequacy because the participants didn’t feel they had enough energy. and mental toughness to become the kind of father they wanted to be, ”the authors wrote.

Participants mentioned stressors that they believed contributed to their PPD, including complications during their partner’s pregnancy, unplanned caesarean section (three fathers), partner’s difficulty breastfeeding (five fathers) and problems with breastfeeding (five fathers). employment concerns. Five reported that their partners had postpartum emotional distress.

“Male standards”

A second goal of the research was to examine the help-seeking behaviors of fathers, says Pedersen.

Ultimately, all of the participants sought formal help, either from their GP or a health visitor, with two of them seeking help right after birth.

Although participants were able to recognize mood and behavior changes in retrospect, many did not view them as signs of depression until their diagnosis.

Most of the participants had heard of PPD, but mainly from women. Three searched for information online about the paternal DPP but could not find any.

Four participants described the PLR ​​experience as “taboo,” based on a “combination of false beliefs, stigma and male norms,” ​​the authors said, since men “are meant to be tall and strong and take care of everything, and suddenly you can’t. “

The authors reported that seven participants were screened for PPD or depression by a healthcare professional.

“Screening was an important part of the help-seeking process, as it was the first time two of the fathers had been introduced to DPP,” the authors said.

Although the screening “had the potential to spark a conversation” on the PLR, it was aimed at women and some participants did not think it was relevant to them.

“Future research should focus on identifying educational needs about paternal PPD in both parents, healthcare professionals and other professionals caring for new families,” Pedersen said.

Michael W. says it would have been helpful if someone had prepared him and his wife what to expect, or if there had been some sort of screening. Additionally, he advises expectant parents to “have a real-life experience spending time with a newborn to see what is involved.”

Different symptoms

“We often talk about mothers with PPD, so it’s more normal for mothers to talk about it or their loved ones to ask mothers how they are physically and psychologically after birth,” Craig Garfield, MD, attending physician and founder / director of innovations in family and child health at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, told WebMD.

For fathers, “it’s not discussed as often, so friends and families don’t often ask fathers, and fathers don’t know who to turn to,” says Garfield, who is also a professor of pediatrics and pediatrics. medical social sciences at Northwestern University. Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, and did not participate in the study.

He notes that symptoms in fathers may differ from those in mothers.

“I’ve seen fathers who are anxious or more moody than before, or more angry, and I’ve seen fathers who throw themselves into work or start drinking more – all related to mood swings and depressive symptoms during the postpartum period, “he says.

Symptoms in men can last longer than in women. Garfield’s group published a study in which they interviewed 400 mothers and fathers of premature infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) about depressive symptoms upon admission to the NICU, upon discharge from home, then after 30 days at home.

About a third of mothers tested positive for depressive symptoms around NICU admission, as did 17% of fathers. But mothers’ depression scores improved upon discharge and 30 days after returning home, while those of fathers remained “essentially unchanged,” he says.

“In addition, we found that if physicians were to screen mothers and fathers during their stay in the NICU – on admission or even on discharge – it would dramatically improve their ability to predict who would still have depressive symptoms 1 months after returning home. “

Pedersen agrees that clinicians should integrate screening for PPD into their practice and be proactive in encouraging fathers to seek help.

“Keep pushing,” she advises, because “men rarely seek help, compared to women, when it comes to mental health.”

WebMD Health News


American Journal of Men’s Health: “I wanted to be there as a father, but I couldn’t: a qualitative study of fathers’ experiences with postpartum depression and their help-seeking behavior.

Sarah Pedersen, Department of Public Health, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark.

Craig Garfield, MD, attending physician and Founder / Director of Family and Child Health Innovations at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

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