For fathers and male caregivers, the risk of depression after the birth of a child is a cause for mental health awareness. As discussed in Part 1 of this series, postpartum depression is a serious, sometimes dangerous, but ultimately treatable condition.
In addition to the personal turmoil experienced by those suffering from this condition, there may also be risk factors that affect the overall growth and development of children.
A 2020 study by Walsh, Davis and Garfield states that parenting and family functioning can be impacted; parenting engagement, warmth and sensitivity may be reduced; increased conflict can occur within couples; and increases in mental or behavioral disorders have been observed.
Major impacts of parental depression on children can include a loss of connection through the attachment process, creating difficulty for a parent or caregiver to meet even basic needs. Often, postpartum depression can interrupt the importance of bonding and interacting with a child.
According to a 2006 study by LeTourneau, Duffett-Leger and Salmani, “the negative impact of maternal depression on children’s social development may be mediated by fathers’ characteristics related to their availability to provide family support.” If fathers are unable to be emotionally present and in the moment with positive and supportive attention, the child may be negatively impacted and lose much needed paternal support while the mother may be struggling.
When attachment and bonding are interrupted, children may have a difficult time finding trust for the most important people in their lives. Social and emotional development may be delayed, as children do not receive the love, affection and caring they desperately need. Caregivers may not make consistent eye contact, snuggle, play or speak lovingly with children, creating feelings of loneliness and withdrawal within the child.
The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) determined, “The most prevalent symptoms of depression among the caregivers of young children (i.e., fatigue, lack of interest in most activities, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping and feelings of worthlessness) can directly affect the quality of parenting.”
When caregivers suffer from depression, it can often affect how a child develops self-regulation skills and responsiveness towards others.
Postpartum depression can have lasting long-term and sometimes crippling effects on both caregiver and child, leading to a possible environment where children are at risk for developmental delays and overall health concerns.
Fortunately, research suggests there are techniques that can be helpful in navigating stress in one’s life during these unique times:
Take time to notice what happens to your body and mind when you feel stress. Maybe you can feel your blood pressure rise or maybe you experience muscle tension in your body.
Perhaps you feel moody or begin to lash out at others quicker than is typical. You may have difficulty in focusing on completing a task, or maybe you just feel flat and tired.
By identifying how our bodies react under stress, we can take steps to intervene — to do something that will help us feel better and stay in the present moment.
A brief breathing exercise or meditation can be helpful in reducing stress and calming down. There are many mindfulness apps available on your smart phone that can guide you in these meditations. There are also plenty of free guided meditations available on YouTube.
Physical activity, good sleep and artistic hobbies such as painting, drawing and listening to or playing music can be beneficial in handling stressful situations.
By introducing stress management techniques and by performing regular self-reflection, a father may be able to intervene and lessen some of the negative outcomes that are associated with postpartum depression.
By understanding our personal stress signals and being able to identify when stress is increasing, mindfulness and meditative techniques can be used to assist in creating positive outcomes for Dad, Mom 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 to handle 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.
This article appeared originally on canr.msu.edu.