It is quite common for people to come across information about how mothers can suffer from postpartum depression (PPD) because of all the changes their bodies go through and the whole life change they experience with a new baby. We know that the biggest responsibility of carrying that new life and the arrival of the baby falls on mothers because they’ve been carrying them in their belly for nine months, and will continue to produce nutrients and milk to feed them for at least another twelve months. For this reason, we may think that, since nothing like this happens to fathers, there is nothing for them to be worried or concerned about. Dads don’t give birth, so they can’t suffer from postpartum depression, can they? Well, yes, they can. And because this is little talked about, we need to inform ourselves and share this information so that people understand that it is a mistake to think that PPD does not affect fathers.
It is important to be aware that a new baby affects the life of the whole family and all the change and new reality with this new arrival can be frightening. In fact, paternal depression can still occur during pregnancy, when changes start to happen. The mood changes, there is a loss of appetite, pleasure in things they used to enjoy, and the actual joy of being a father. We know that it is a great challenge for new fathers too. This is the moment that many questions go through their minds: will I be a good father? Will I be able to raise my child? Will they love me knowing who I am? These uncertainties and insecurities contribute to increased stress and anxiety. Not having control over situations, especially for those who are used to “have it all figured out”, is often an invitation to depression.
Paternal Postpartum Depression is more common among first-time dads or those who had not planned for a baby to arrive. As we mentioned earlier, all the challenges and changes with the arrival of a child have a greater impact on men who experience these. That is why it is very important that the fathers share each stage of pregnancy with their partners and that they even go to their routine medical appointments. When fathers talk to doctors and are informed about each stage, ask questions, and learn about what to expect, they are preparing themselves for when the baby really arrives.
There are cases of fathers who suffer from postpartum depression after their partner also battles with it. This does not happen through osmosis or contagion, but because, suddenly, the man has to take care of the baby alone, who needs extra attention, while the spouse is going through a difficult time. Not to mention the difficulty in feeding the baby, which can also be a huge challenge, especially if the baby is breastfed and not used to a bottle just yet. When this happens, the new father becomes overwhelmed, worried, and deprived of sleep which ends up becoming a very negative domino effect that can lead to depression.
What are the indications that the father suffers postpartum depression?
The family needs to be alert because, in most cases, the symptoms of PPD in the fathers are not noticed. This happens because of the lack of knowledge of its existence and because they are slightly different from the symptoms of maternal postpartum depression. It is important to pay attention if these symptoms persist, because it does affect the journey of fatherhood. There are two types of symptoms: those of general depression and that of paternal PPD.
General Depression Symptoms:
- Deep sadness
- Loss of memory
- Lack of interest in pleasurable activities
- Sudden changes in mood
- Loss of appetite
Specific symptoms of paternal postpartum depression:
- Unconscious wish to get away from home
- Excessive self-medication
- Uncontrolled or impulsive attitudes
How to treat?
For fathers who suffer from PPD, it serves the same recommendation that moms receive: ask for help from a specialist when experiencing symptoms. Treatment will depend on the degree of the illness and you may or may not need to use medication. It is also important to talk to the family and partner, to have a support network.
It is important for fathers to understand that their depression can affect their child’s social development and how they will relate in the future. So seek help when you notice these symptoms, for you, and for your new family.