In the Parenthood

Dads can develop postpartum depression

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  June 3, 2010 10:24 AM

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New fathers generally don't have a wealth of information to fall back on. Pregnancy books are usually aimed at women, obviously, though there are a few notable exceptions, like Christopher Healy's Pop Culture: The Sane Manís Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood and Dad's Pregnant, Too by Harlan Cohen. But dads-to-be and new fathers need help as much as moms do: A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of husbands experience depression sometime between their wives' first trimester and the end of the baby's first year, and 25.6 percent of new dads are depressed during the first 3 to 6 months of the baby's life -- in other words, 3 to 6 months postpartum.

That number is way up from a study reported in the Lancet in 2005, in which four percent of new fathers were found to have symptoms of postpartum depression.

So many people expect that bond with the new baby to be instantaneous -- or the bond with older children to be unbreakable -- that there's a level of shock and shame that comes when a new parent doesn't feel immediate love for their squalling bundle of joy. (There was a heartbreaking post over at The Motherlode earlier this week, in which new parents admit that they don't feel in love with their children.) That feeling is usually considered maternal, which may be one reason that depression in new fathers tends to fly under the radar.

In an article in U.S. News & World Report, John Hyman tells reporter Dana Scarton that he felt "broken" by his lack of an instant connection with his newborn son. "Betsy fell in love. It was primal," he says. "I didn't have that experience. I thought I was broken. I remember thinking this was a dirty little secret I would have to deal with."

While male and female postpartum depression have similar symptoms, most people don't recognize them when they appear. Complicating matters is the fact that hormonal changes can trigger and affect the condition in women, but in men it's more likely to be triggered by the radical lifestyle changes brought on by having a squalling bundle of joy around the house. Men also deal with depression differently, and are more likely to work longer hours to escape the internal conflict or to act out in angry or destructive ways, with drug and alcohol abuse or extramarital affairs.

And the parents aren't the only ones who may be affected by it. As psychologist James F. Paulson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School who conducted the study with Sharnail D. Bazemore, tells U.S. News:

Children born into such families receive less attention from the depressed parent and are at increased risk for developing physical and emotional problems.... Depression in the father is thought to increase the likelihood that his children will act out or behave destructively. (Depression in the mother, by contrast, is associated with decreased overall health, learning problems, and a greater risk for developing depression.)

Moms and Dads, please weigh in: In retrospect, do you think you or your spouse suffered from postpartum depression? How did you deal with it?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.


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15 comments so far...
  1. cheer up

    Posted by jr June 3, 10 03:34 PM
  1. Being about to give birth to our firstborn in a month, give or take, it is something I'll be on the lookout for when our daughter arrives.

    Posted by Issybelle June 3, 10 06:48 PM
  1. This sure did happen to me. My wife's maternity leave had run out and I was desperately seeking work in the '09 recession. I found it incredibly difficult to apply for jobs (cover letters, phone interviews, etc) and take care of our baby full time. Sure, it wasn't based on hormones, but the feelings of isolation and desperation I had were real. I'm fortunate to have gotten a day care situation going a few months later and due to that be able to land a job in October.

    I'm sure part of my depression was based partly on not being a bread-winner. Regardless, I felt no connection to my baby boy. He was a 15 lb. albatross around my neck and I hated every moment he was awake. It's horrible to say but it's true.

    Things are much better now but I wonder if I could have found happiness taking care of my baby in a situation where my income wasn't needed. You know, if there wasn't pressure on me to find a job, could I have been a happy Mr. Mom? I really doubt it but I'll never know.

    Posted by bds June 3, 10 10:31 PM
  1. I suffered severe post partum depression, and did not have that 'instant' love for my child despite being his mom. It was awful and the shame I felt was terrible. I think we do such a disservice to each other (other new parents, men and women) by not talking about this, normalizing feelings and giving each other an outlet.

    Posted by sadmomisgladmom June 4, 10 07:42 AM
  1. I have had many episodes, some prolonged, of depression and melancholy since my first daughter was born back in November. For the first four months it was often related to keeping up a 40-50 hour work week and being completely sleep deprived. But other major lifestyle changes contributed too -- notably, less sex, less time for leisure, and constant anxiety about raising our daughter. My wife and I argues substantially more for a while too as we figured out our new life.

    Posted by Yoda June 4, 10 01:44 PM
  1. Men can not have post partum depression. They can not have partum! They might be depressed after their child is born, but what they have is not the same as the woman who was pregnant.

    First, I'd like to know if this study just recorded symptoms or was actually able to rule out other potential causes. Second, I'd like to know how many of these men were depressed before. Then I'd like to know how many men in the general population, and how many men in this age group report symptoms of depresison.

    Posted by ash June 4, 10 04:18 PM
  1. Thanks for your comment, ash. If you click on the link I provided to the abstract of the study, you'll find the answers to some of your questions. The number of men in the general population with depression averaged about 4 percent (it was higher among those in the US), and the number rose during the wives' pregnancies and peaked 3 to 6 months after the baby was born. -- LMA

    Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse Author Profile Page June 4, 10 04:39 PM
  1. My husband and I just read this and we agree that this is accurate. Men suffer the same life adjustments and lack of sleep that newborns bring on. (Our baby is only 5 weeks and asleep in her daddy's arms). He felt the same guilt about leaving her and going back to work that I know I will feel when I have to go back to work in a couple of weeks.
    Babies effect everyone around them, even if it is not physically hormonal.

    Posted by New mom and dad June 4, 10 04:41 PM
  1. For both men and women, It is incredibly difficult to be sleep-deprived, anxious, and have a screaming, pooping, puking little bundle of joy attached to you at all times. The only thing about this story that is surprising is that anyone would somehow find it news-worthy or shocking that a baby changes the lives of BOTH mom and dad.

    I have a special needs child who is basically a 40- pound infant and stops breathing on occasion. Maybe the next breaking news story could be about how it is stressful to give CPR to your child.

    But seriously, Lylah, can we use accurate words? Dads can't biologically have "post-partum" anything. Dads can have serious depressive episodes when baby arrives, but let's not throw inaccurate buzzwords around.

    Posted by Lisa June 5, 10 10:21 AM
  1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Lisa, but the title of the study itself is "Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression," (click on the link in the first graph of my post if you want to verify) so you might want to take your issue up with the American Medical Association. -- LMA

    Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse Author Profile Page June 5, 10 04:35 PM
  1. Oops, I guess I'll go be cranky with the AMA. :)

    Posted by Lisa June 5, 10 08:29 PM
  1. I have always suspected that postpartum depression is 90% sleep deprivation, and maybe 10% hormones. (An exaggeration, yes, but the point is still valid.) Plus there's the stress of a dramatic change in one's life circumstances. That's why adoptive parents can experience it and dads can experience it. My sister had an easy delivery but her baby needed surgery at 1 day old and had to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks. My sister was released from the hospital after 48 hours. She spent every day in the NICU with her daughter but came home and slept 8+ hours a night. Even though she was worried about her baby (who fully recovered), she did not have nearly the emotional issues that parents in more typical situations who do NOT get full nights of sleep postpartum do.

    Posted by Nancy West June 7, 10 12:51 PM
  1. Agreed...sleep deprevation during the first 6 months was overwhelming. A friend described it as the BLACK HOLE of SLEEP!!! Enough to make anyone depressed.

    Posted by bv June 8, 10 12:58 PM
  1. To all members of fathers and families, please ask Ned to let his constituances know that CPF is hosting a Pro Se workshop on June 26th in Worcester on Post Divorce modifications at the Zion Lutheran church. For more info go to fatherhoodcoalition.org. Once again Ned why he isn't a team player.

    Posted by 617-Sad-Dads June 8, 10 10:19 PM
  1. Hi. You have a really great blog which I enjoyed reading. Thanks! I have found a good website about depression and bipolar disorder which may help (www.lawsonclinic.com.au). Cheers.

    Posted by Annemarie Flaming June 24, 10 04:40 AM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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