Postnatal Depression in Fathers

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Postnatal Depression in Fathers
Postnatal depression in fathers is something which has been ignored and un-acknowledged for some time, but it certainly does exist.

PND can be very different for a father than for a mother, so different that they, and other people, may not always spot the signs that something is wrong after the birth.

Often, depression in men is much less apparent than it is in women, and this can be particularly true of fathers. Depressed men tend to change their behaviour, sometimes becoming more and more withdrawn, avoiding social situations, and becoming cynical, indecisive or irritable. Sometimes they can be desperate to get away from the family unit, and so they work extra hours or take up a new hobby. But things like this aren’t usually linked to depression – it’s common for fathers to work hard, or to play lots of golf (for instance), and to be seen as being a responsible breadwinner or ‘typical man’ as a result. Yet this could be a father’s way of
father and baby
avoiding the very thing which is making him depressed – his new baby. Sometimes, a depressed father could start drinking more heavily, or using drugs, or he could even start an affair outside of his relationship – all these can be signs of depression, but they are very rarely seen as such, and often there are other causes for this sort of behaviour.

Depression in fathers can also be more ‘traditionally’ apparent, with symptoms such as insomnia, weight loss or weight gain, fatigue, and a lack of ability to concentrate all present. However, with all new parents, loss of appetite, disturbed sleep, and a lack of energy are all part and parcel of caring for a new baby, which makes it difficult to pinpoint these as symptoms of PND. With such a range of symptoms, all experienced differently by the sufferer, it can be very difficult to accurately diagnose PND in fathers

There are lots of reasons why a father can feel depressed after his baby is born, both physiological and situational. Many people are aware that hormonal changes can trigger PND in mothers after the birth, but it is less well-known that fathers experience hormonal changes too, and this disruption can be a factor in a father’s PND.
More significant to depression are the lifestyle changes and the sheer, overwhelming responsibility of becoming a father which can affect dads. Fathers can feel scared of their new role, or underprepared, or they can simple struggle with having to put another person before themselves. Becoming a parent can also have a negative effect on a couple’s relationship – having a child can be very stressful – and this can also trigger a depression in new fathers.

family man
A small number of experts believe that a father can suffer from depression if he is at the birth of his child, regardless of how traumatic or easy the labour is. There is one obstetrician, Michel Odent, who argues that some men should be kept out of the labour room as witnessing a birth can have a negative physical, as well as emotional effect on a father.

What can we do to prevent, or reduce, PND in dads? Many professionals believe that maternity services need to be focussed on the couple as a parenting ‘team’ rather than being so focussed on the mother and baby. Of course, the mother and child are at the centre of childbirth, but in almost all cases the father is simply forgotten about – if he does attend an antenatal appointment it is unlikely he will be talked to very much. Talking, and acknowledging that a father can be depressed, or just worried about becoming a father, can make a huge difference. Similarly, antenatal classes are centred around a mother’s experience of labour – it would be helpful to include fathers in this preparation, with discussion about how they might cope and how they might be feeling.

There is a lot of expectation placed on fathers which wasn’t traditionally part of their role – we now want dads to be ‘hands-on’ and to share the responsibility of parenting and housekeeping, often as well as working full time, but we do little to prepare them for this. Male-led antenatal classes, extended paternity leave, and changes to maternity services can all play a pivotal part in changing the way we see PND in fathers, but talking about the condition more and more will be the most important thing we all can do to help. Simply knowing that depression is normal after a man becomes a father and that it is something that is recognised by healthcare professionals and sufferers can go a long way in helping those at risk.

Olivia Spencer
February 2015

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