Paternal postpartum depression; Jason's story
When my girlfriend Melissa told me she was pregnant I was kind of excited about starting a family, but at the same time, I was worried because we were not ready. Melissa and I were still in our early 20’s and neither of us had finished our first degrees yet.
The pregnancy was unexpected for Melissa as well; she was in her second year of university (like me) and her plans to finish her degree had to be put on hold. Melissa wanted the baby and we never even discussed not having it. So we moved in together and I continued university while working part-time.
Feeling worthless as a dad during pregnancy
The pregnancy went pretty well but things between us changed a bit. Melissa was more sensitive emotionally and she could get really irritable at me for no reason. My dad and his friends told me it was pregnancy hormones. They said this happened to all women and not to take it personally, but I felt a significant change was occurring in our relationship.
As time went on, everything brought stress into our lives. Shopping for baby things was disappointing for Melissa because we had to find sales or buy used baby items. I could see Melissa was feeling sad because this was not how she had imagined shopping for her child. She didn’t hide the fact that she was disappointed and I felt worthless for not having enough money to give her what she wanted.
Postpartum relationship changes
After the baby came I expected things to get better with us but instead, they seemed to get worse. We had some good days, but mostly Melissa was irritable and distant. She cried a lot and I didn’t know how to make her feel better. I know that sleep was an issue for both of us. At night, I would get up and try to help but the baby just wanted her mom. Melissa seemed to want me to help but I didn't really know what my daughter wanted when she cried.
Feeling hopeless as a new dad
By the time our baby was 3 months old, I was dreading coming home from work and school. I missed hanging out with my friends. I started to feel really hopeless and irritable myself. I don’t see how things will get better and I feel like we made a huge mistake. I love my daughter but I feel trapped. When Melissa and I first got together I was really happy. I don’t think we will ever get back there again.
Paternal depression is more common than most people know
Jason’s story is not as rare as many think. An investigation of 20 research studies from 1980 to 2002 revealed startlingly high rates of paternal postpartum depression (PPD). The study found that during the first year after childbirth the incidence of PPD ranged from 1.2% to 25.5% in community samples and from 24% to 50% among men whose partners were suffering from maternal postpartum depression.
Men can get postpartum depression too
Maternal Postpartum Depression is well known and well researched. But paternal postpartum depression (PPD) has gone largely unnoticed. In today’s society, men are playing a larger role in child rearing and it is important that therapists and healthcare providers are aware of the prevalence and seriousness of PPD. Depression in fathers has the potential to bring about significant adverse effects in their ability to provide for their family as well as provide healthy emotional support to their children and spouse.
The relationship between maternal and paternal depression
The likelihood of a new father developing paternal postpartum depression is greatly increased if the mother is experiencing postpartum depression. It is important for therapists and doctors to also evaluate the spouses of mother’s who are suffering from maternal postpartum depression. The health of the fathers is important not only for themselves but also because they are the main source of support for the mother and child.
At the same time, the father is also dependant on the mother for emotional support and in cases of prolonged maternal depression, it is extremely difficult for a new father to adjust to fatherhood.
Risk factors for paternal postpartum depression
We can see from Jason’s story he is dealing with many challenges that are related to his new role as a father. Melissa and Jason experienced a dramatic change in lifestyle. They were young and unprepared for parenthood. They had not finished their education and were struggling financially. Their relationship changed and Jason had difficulty bonding with his daughter. A study investigating the risks of PPD outlined many of the factors Jason was experiencing. Men who experience changes in their relationship, a lack of social support, financial difficulties and feeling excluded from mother-infant bonding are at a higher risk of developing depression.
The good news
Paternal postpartum depression is treatable. In the case of a diagnosis, paternal depression should be treated in the same way as general depression. Therapy and medication are options for fathers. If the mother is experiencing depression, helping her will also contribute to the healing of the father.
If you are a mother or father experiencing postpartum depression, don't hesitate to reach out for help from one of our therapists that treat new parents for postpartum depression.
Kim, P., & Swain, J. E. (2007). Sad dads: paternal postpartum depression. Psychiatry (edgmont), 4(2), 35.
Paulson, J. F., & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. Jama, 303(19), 1961-1969.
Kamalifard, M., Bayati Payan, S., Panahi, S., Hasanpoor, S., & Babapour Kheiroddin, J. (2018). Paternal Postpartum Depression and Its Relationship With Maternal Postpartum Depression. Journal of Holistic Nursing And Midwifery, 28(2), 115-120.