For many who have experienced or witnessed the birth of a child, you may vividly remember the chaos that ensued when it was time to go to the hospital. If you were lucky, the nursery was ready, the hospital bag was packed, and you headed out knowing that your life was going to change forever.
However, many of us are often not ready with a packed bag. We forget about phone chargers and the nursery is not always ready to go.
We may have run the dishwasher, yet left the sink full of dirty dishes and of course, there is a basket full of laundry still needing to be folded. Thus is life as we begin the journey into parenthood.
Before leaving the hospital, many parents are given a bouquet of medical handouts and attending nurses are often quick to screen new mothers for signs of postpartum depression, sharing a plethora of handouts describing it’s affects before leaving for home.
Postpartum depression can take many forms. Some mothers may have a milder case, which has been colloquially called the “baby blues.” According to the Mayo Clinic, “most new moms experience postpartum ‘baby blues’ after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery and may last for up to two weeks.” In other words, this is an experience which may be common to mothers who have just given birth.
In some cases, though, the excitement and joy of celebrating a new child can bring on depressive symptoms. These may include severe mood swings, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with the baby, withdrawal from family and friends, a change in appetite, overwhelming fatigue, intense bouts of irritability and anger, and feelings of hopefulness, shame, guilt or inadequacy, among others. The Mayo Clinic provides additional details on postpartum symptoms, for those looking to learn more.
However, what about fathers and male caregivers? What about dads? Can this happen to them too?
Yes, in fact it can. Postpartum depression can affect fathers and male caregivers in addition to mothers.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), signs of postpartum depression have been observed in up to 25% of new fathers. However, it is difficult to tally precise numbers, as men have been less likely to seek treatment for mental health concerns.
The AAP also identified a clinical issue within the medical field regarding postpartum depression in fathers. “The AAP…acknowledged paternal postpartum depression (PPD) as an established clinical problem, yet called for pediatricians to screen solely mothers at the one-, two-, four-, and six-month well-child visits and ‘consider screening the partner as well’ at the six-month visit.”
According to Dr. Will Courtenay, researcher, clinical psychotherapist and creator of the health education organization Men’s Health Consulting, postpartum depression in men can rise to nearly 50% when the mother exhibits symptoms of postpartum depression.
Courtenay also listed a series of risk factors for male postpartum depression. Although these factors may be predictive, they are not a replacement for diagnosis by a trained medical professional:
- A lack of good sleep
- Changes in hormones
- Personal history of depression
- Poor relationship with spouse
- Poor relationship with one or both parents
- Relationship stress – with a partner or with in-laws
- Excessive stress about becoming a parent or father
- Nonstandard family (such as being unmarried or a stepfather)
- Poor social functioning
- A lack of support from others
- Economic problems or limited resources
- A sense of being excluded from the connection between the mother and baby
If you begin to regularly experience some of the signs and symptoms of depression discussed above, please reach out to your family physician for advice on handling this potentially dangerous, but ultimately treatable condition.
At the very least, if you are asked by a medical professional if you have any questions or concerns regarding your mental health, don’t be hesitant to voice them.
Continue reading about postpartum depression in fathers in Part 2 of this series.
This article appeared originally at canr.msu.edu.