The frequent night feedings. The fussing that seemingly can’t be soothed. The rearranging of your days to tend to the constant needs of a brand new baby. It can all catch up to any new parent.
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While we typically associate the “baby blues” and postpartum depression with women, new fathers can experience serious mood changes after bringing baby home, too.
In fact, paternal postnatal depression is “wildly common,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. About 10% of fathers become depressed before or just after their baby is born, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Postpartum blues are especially common three to six months after the birth, with as many as one in four dads experiencing symptoms.
The reason is partly biological, Dr. Bea says. “Everyone knows that mothers’ hormones change a lot during and after pregnancy. But there’s evidence that fathers also experience real changes in their hormone levels after a baby is born,” he explains.
And plenty of non-hormonal factors are at play, too:
- One plus one … plus one: Men may be used to being the focus of their partners’ attention. That changes when a baby enters the equation. Moms tend to bond quickly with baby. Dads bond with babies in different ways, and it can take a while. In the meantime, dad can feel like a third wheel.
- Provider pressure: A new father can feel intense pressure to provide for his new addition, which can ramp up stress around finances and career.
- Guilt trips: There’s a cultural expectation that new dads should be over the moon. If they’re not quite feeling it yet, they might feel guilty on top of everything else.
- Just not getting it: Most new parents get so little sleep — and so little sex — that they might start to wonder why they have a bed. Lack of either can take a toll on your mood.
Dads & depression: Know the signs
Symptoms of depression can look different in men and women. Some of the more common signs in men include:
- Anger, irritability or aggression.
- Loss of interest in work or favorite activities.
- Working all the time.
- Acting distant or withdrawing from family and friends.
- Feeling frustrated, discouraged or cynical.
- Feeling sad, hopeless or overwhelmed.
Men who have a history of depression might be at greater risk of postpartum depression. So are new fathers whose partners also have postpartum symptoms.
Help for paternal postpartum depression
Unfortunately, many men laugh off the idea of paternal postpartum depression. And even if they accept it’s the real deal, they might not admit it’s affecting them.
“But there’s nothing shameful about postpartum depression,” Dr. Bea stresses. “Fatherhood is a huge new job, with long hours and no pay, and society doesn’t do a good enough job supporting men in this role.”
To maintain a positive mood when you’re in the thick of new fatherhood, Dr. Bea recommends focusing on the self-care basics:
- Eat well.
- Rest (yeah, we know, but grab a nap when you can get one).
- Avoid drinking, gambling and other reckless behaviors.
- Talk about your feelings — whether it’s with your partner, parent, sibling or friend (or anyone who will listen without judgment).
Adjusting to a new baby takes time. It’s normal for your mood to be a little rocky in the process. But if your symptoms last more than two to three weeks, consider help from a counselor or psychotherapist.
“Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re helpless,” Dr. Bea points out. It means you’re doing what you need to do so you can be the best partner — and best dad — you can be.