Postpartum Depression in Dads

You may know some non-birthing parents who put on a little extra “baby weight” during their partner’s pregnancy. But, did you know that new dads can also suffer from male postpartum depression?

The concept might seem a little far-fetched, considering that postpartum depression has been so closely associated with moms. About 15% of moms suffer from postpartum depression (and another 11 to 21% of people experience postpartum anxiety.) Postpartum depression has mostly been associated with pregnancy, the pressures of breastfeeding and infant care, and big hormonal changes. So why would dads also be vulnerable to a postpartum mood crisis?

What is postpartum depression?

During pregnancy or after birth, up to 4 in 5 new moms experience “baby blues,” which is a problem characterized by mood swings, worries and irritability. But, 1 in 6 go through a much more serious depression, known as postpartum depression.

Several pressures have been shown to have the power to trigger depression, including exhaustion, fussy babies, hormonal shifts, and a weak support system. These new moms can sink into an abyss of profound sadness, severe dread, a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness, and lack of pleasure. Extreme cases can bring intrusive thoughts, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts and actions.

Postpartum depression is so common that doctors recommend screening all moms and expecting moms for it, before and after the delivery.

But, what about postpartum depression in men or non-birthing partners?

Can men have postpartum depression?

Like new moms, new dads can also suffer from feeling overwhelmed and very anxious. However, unlike in women, male postpartum depression is often marked by irritability, anger, resentment, and aggression. Men often try to escape their stress and depression through drinking, working longer hours, playing video games, heading to the gym, or even violent outbursts. Postpartum depression in men is also more likely to be expressed as unexplained physical problems, like headaches or stomach pain.

A study in the journal Hormones and Behavior found that a new father’s hormonal levels can also shift and that the men whose testosterone levels dropped were more likely to experience the symptoms of postpartum depression.

While researchers point to hormonal imbalance as one cause of postpartum depression in men, it’s important to look at the whole picture. Dads today are often active parents, more heavily involved in their children’s lives than fathers in past generations. Yet, men also have much less family support nowadays. With profound societal shifts have come added pressure and uncertainty on how to be a good dad. Am I doing enough? Does my baby love me? Is my partner happy? All this can lead to waves of insecurity, guilt, depression, and the desire to escape.

Added to these stresses may be the responsibility to care for a partner overwhelmed by the transition to motherhood. These dads worry about taking attention away from their loved one who is struggling with postpartum depression. No wonder men whose partners are depressed are twice as likely to develop postpartum depression, according to a 2004 study.

What are signs of postpartum depression in men?

As mentioned above, common signs of male postpartum depression include:

  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Aggression
  • Drinking
  • Working longer hours
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Decrease in testosterone levels
  • Violent outbursts

What to do if you're a dad with male postpartum depression:

There is a pervasive idea that it‘s “unmanly” to ask for help. And, that is especially true when it comes to asking for help with emotional problems. Men exhibiting signs of postpartum depression often need encouragement to keep the fear of seeming weak from becoming a self-imposed barrier against seeking guidance.

So, if you are a new dad, or know a new dad, who is concerned about postpartum stress, it’s important to get him to reach out and open up.

Talk with your family and friends if you think you have male postpartum depression.

It’s natural for new parents to think that they should only express happiness. New parents say that feeling anger, worry or sadness can make them feel guilty and even severely defective. But rather than becoming more secretive, this is exactly the time that it is vital to confide in your partner or other trusted friends. Speaking feelings out loud helps bring clarity. And, it helps remind us that feelings we have when bone tired and stressed are not a reflection of who we are or a predictor of how we will feel once life gets a little easier.

Talk with your primary care provider about male postpartum depression.

The next lines of support for dads feeling blindsided by mood shifts are personal doctors, religious counselors, and the baby’s pediatrician. All three should have experience speaking with other men going through similar situations. And, they should all be capable of making a referral to a mental health professional, if that’s needed. (In the meantime, here are some mental health resources for new parents to check out.)

Get some practical support to prevent male postpartum depression.

Parenthood is hard! All parents need a little help…and when you have a new baby, it's time for your circle of support to step in. That’s exactly why people say “It takes a village” to raise a child. So, please, don’t hesitate to ask your friends and family for support: perhaps a pot of soup or casserole that can last a few days or an afternoon of babysitting while you get some sleep. In fact, reaching out for help—and repaying the favor once your life gets more normal—is the best way to enrich your relationships and create even stronger bonds.

Across the U.S., we’ve seen a very encouraging increase in sensitivity and support of new moms dealing with postpartum stress. Hopefully, as awareness grows that men, too, can fall into the black pit of postpartum depression, we will begin to give them the help they need and deserve to fully enjoy this truly magical time of life.

If you are feeling any of these symptoms and are wondering if you may have postpartum depression, take this free quiz or consider some of these mental health resources for new parents.

Learn more about the science behind paternal depression.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.