It’s commonly accepted that as many as 80% of new mothers experience minor sadness, often called the “baby blues”, and that about 10% suffer from fully-fledged postpartum depression. But what about new dads – can they get hit by the baby blues, too? Studies suggest that even though they don’t have to deal with the hormonal rollercoaster that’s par for the course for mothers, a significant number of new fathers can expect to feel down and out before and especially after the birth of their child.
A new study by researchers from University College London and the UK’s Medical Research Council which was published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that one out of five fathers (as well as more than a third of mothers) experience depression before their child reaches the age of 12 with the highest rates reported within the first year after the birth.
“There is a significant risk of mothers and fathers becoming depressed soon after the birth of their child,” said Professor Irwin Nazareth, one of the researchers involved. He also remarked that while new mothers are routinely screened for depression, there is no equivalent clinical practice for new fathers even though they too are at risk.
A 2010 US meta-analysis that evaluated 43 previous studies involving thousands of patients came to similar conclusions. Dr James F. Paulson and Sharnail D. Bazemore of Eastern Virginia Medical School suggest that about 10% of fathers suffer from pre- or postnatal depression with the highest rates observed three to six months postpartum.
The causes for depression in prospective and new fathers typically include:
- lack of sleep, which can change the neuro-chemical balances in the brain;
- the economic stresses of raising a child;
- adjusting to new challenges and routines and an entirely different lifestyle;
- anxiety about the responsibilities of having a child; and
- new demands on the parents’ relationship.
The men most at risk of suffering from pre- or postnatal depression are:
- fathers within the first year of the birth of their child;
- younger men aged between 15 and 24;
- those from poor and socially deprived backgrounds; and
- men with a history of depression.
Unhappy daddy = unhappy child
Being a depressed dad isn’t just detrimental for the man himself. There is growing evidence that his depression can have negative effects on his child and family as well. It may exacerbate a mother’s own postnatal depression and affect his child’s development. Depressed fathers tend to be less actively involved in their children’s lives, are less likely to read to them or tell them stories, resulting in poor father-child attachment.
A 2005 UK study published in The Lancet found a correlation between postnatal depression in fathers and adverse emotional and behavioural development in their children aged 3 to 5. Similarly, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry suggests that children whose fathers went through depression during their early infancy were more likely to develop behavioural problems by the time they reached a school-going age.
How to beat the daddy blues
If you’re an expectant or new father, what can you do to lower your risk of descending into the baby blues? Here are some practical suggestions:
- recognise that new fathers can experience depression quite similar to that felt by many new moms – you are not alone;
- prepare yourself for fatherhood in good time by being an involved partner, accompanying the mother-to-be to her doctor’s appointments and reading all the requisite baby books and articles;
- speak to your partner about your new situation and how you can best support each other;
- work out new routines and schedules together with your partner to help both of you ease into your new lifestyle;
- look out for early warning signs in your behaviour, such as irritability, moodiness, hostility, aggressiveness, feelings of being overwhelmed, emotionally withdrawn, lonely, inadequate, trapped or simply sad.
- don’t bottle up your feelings – talk about them to your partner, a trusted relative or a friend;
- share your experiences with and look for support from other new fathers;
- speak to your doctor and consider seeking professional help through therapy or medication.
Useful books for new fathers:
Here are some books that are aimed at helping new fathers cope with the business of having children and everything that comes with it.
- Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis
- Tales from the Dad Side: Misadventures in Fatherhood by Steve Doocy
- The Gift of Fatherhood: How Men's Live Are Transformed by Their Children by Aaron Hass
- Daddy Needs a Drink: An Irreverent Look at Parenting from a Dad Who Truly Loves His Kids - Even When They're Driving Him Nuts by Robert Wilder
(Andrew Luyt, Health24, September 2010)