What is Paternal Postpartum Depression?
Paternal Postpartum Depression, also known as Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) or paternal depression, is a form of depression that can affect fathers within the first year after the birth of a child. While it is often associated with mothers, it is increasingly recognized that fathers can also experience feelings of sadness, anxiety, and emotional distress during the postpartum period. These feelings can range from mild to severe.(1)
The causes of paternal postpartum depression are multifaceted and can include hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, stress, relationship issues, financial concerns, and a history of mental health issues. Additionally, witnessing a partner struggle with postpartum depression can also contribute to a father’s own depressive symptoms.
Paternal Postnatal Depression is estimated to impact between 4 to 25 percent of new fathers within the initial two months following their child’s birth. Its occurrence tends to be higher among men whose partners are experiencing maternal postnatal depression.(2)
New fathers who are experiencing parenthood for the first time may be particularly susceptible to male postpartum depression. The onset of male postpartum depression might not be immediately noticeable and could manifest gradually over the span of approximately a year. Findings from a 2019 study suggest that postpartum depression in males could potentially have adverse effects on their engagement and interaction with the child.(3)
It is important to recognize that paternal postpartum depression can have significant implications for the well-being of both the father and the family as a whole. Seeking support, either through counseling, therapy, or medical intervention, is crucial for managing and overcoming this condition.(4)
What are the Symptoms of Paternal Postpartum Depression?
Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) shares many similarities with postpartum depression in mothers. Common symptoms of PPND may include:
- Persistent Sadness or Low Mood: Feeling persistently down, sad, or experiencing a general sense of unhappiness.
- Irritability or Anger: Unexplained irritability, mood swings, or sudden outbursts of anger.
- Loss of Interest or Pleasure: A diminished interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable.
- Difficulty Sleeping or Excessive Sleep: Changes in sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping excessively.
- Changes in Appetite or Weight: Significant changes in appetite, resulting in weight loss or gain.
- Fatigue or Loss of Energy: A constant feeling of fatigue, even after restful sleep.
- Difficulty Concentrating or Making Decisions: Problems with focus, memory, and decision-making abilities.
- Feeling Overwhelmed or Hopeless: A sense of hopelessness, helplessness, or feeling overwhelmed by daily responsibilities.
- Physical Symptoms: Headaches, digestive issues, or other physical complaints without a clear medical cause.
- Withdrawal from Activities or Relationships: Avoidance of social interactions and withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities.
- Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide: In severe cases, thoughts of self-harm or suicide may occur.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while maternal postnatal depression is characterized by a major depressive episode that commences within four weeks following childbirth, there currently exist no established diagnostic criteria for Paternal Postnatal Depression.(5)
It is important to note that while these are common symptoms, not everyone with PPND will experience all of them, and the severity and duration of symptoms can vary. Additionally, some symptoms may be more subtle or masked by other emotions.
Potential Causes of Male Postpartum Depression
The origins of Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) are believed to stem from a combination of biological and environmental factors. Male postpartum depression can have a range of potential causes. Here, we outline some of the key contributing factors.
During pregnancy, female hormones undergo significant shifts. Recent research from 2017 suggests that males may experience a decrease in testosterone levels during their partner’s pregnancy.(6) This hormonal shift may have a link to depression, potentially influenced by psychological factors. Additionally, other hormones like estrogen, cortisol, vasopressin, and prolactin may also undergo alterations in men during the perinatal and postnatal period.
Feeling Detached or Overwhelmed
Fathers, especially those not in a relationship with the child’s other parent, may experience a sense of detachment from their newborn. This can be exacerbated if they spend extended periods away from the child. The responsibilities and challenges of becoming a parent, especially for the first time, can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of depression.
It is important to acknowledge that the adjustment to parenthood can be a complex emotional journey for fathers. Factors such as relationship dynamics and time spent with the child play a role in their emotional experience.
Lack of Sleep
Caring for a newborn often results in disrupted and insufficient sleep for parents. A study from 2015 indicates that sleep deprivation is a significant risk factor for developing depression.(7)
It is necessary to be aware that sleep plays a crucial role in mental health, and the challenges of disrupted sleep patterns can contribute to emotional well-being, potentially leading to symptoms of depression in fathers.
Depression in the Mother
If the mother is experiencing postpartum depression, it can have a cascading effect on the father’s mental health. This may stem from psychological factors and a sense of being overwhelmed by the additional responsibilities.(8)
The emotional well-being of both parents is interconnected, and a supportive environment for both partners is crucial for the mental health of the family unit.
Having a History of Depression or Anxiety
People with a pre-existing history of depression or anxiety may be at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. This vulnerability may be attributed to underlying chemical imbalances in the brain.(9)
Recognizing a history of mental health challenges can guide early intervention and support for fathers at higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression.
Various other factors can contribute to the development of postpartum depression in fathers, including young age, financial difficulties, and high levels of stress. These external stressors can amplify the emotional challenges of adjusting to parenthood, potentially exacerbating symptoms of depression in fathers.
How is Paternal Postpartum Depression Treated?
The treatment of Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) typically involves a combination of therapeutic approaches, including:
- Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy): Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy are commonly used to address negative thought patterns, improve coping skills, and enhance communication within relationships.(10)
- Medication: In some cases, antidepressant medications may be prescribed to help regulate mood and alleviate symptoms of depression.
- Support Groups: Joining a support group for fathers experiencing PPND provides a valuable opportunity to share experiences, gain insights, and receive emotional support from others in similar situations.
- Lifestyle Adjustments: Implementing healthy lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate sleep, can positively impact mood and overall well-being.
- Couples Therapy: Engaging in therapy with a partner can help improve communication and understanding, which is crucial for navigating the challenges of PPND within a relationship.(11)
- Seeking Professional Help: Consulting with a mental health professional or healthcare provider is essential for an accurate diagnosis and to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to individual needs.
It is important to note that early intervention is key in effectively managing PPND. Seeking support from healthcare professionals, therapists, and support networks can significantly improve outcomes and enhance overall well-being for both the affected father and the family as a whole.
Conclusion: What is the Outlook for Paternal Postpartum Depression?
The outlook for Paternal Postnatal Depression is optimistic with the right support and intervention. Recognizing the significance of PPND and seeking appropriate treatment early on can lead to positive outcomes. Through a combination of psychotherapy, medication, lifestyle adjustments, and support networks, fathers can navigate the challenges of PPND and ultimately experience improved mental well-being. By prioritizing mental health and seeking professional help when needed, fathers can work towards a brighter, more fulfilling future for themselves and their families.
- Stadtlander, L., 2015. Paternal postpartum depression. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 30(2).
- Kim, P. and Swain, J.E., 2007. Sad dads: paternal postpartum depression. Psychiatry (edgmont), 4(2), p.35.
- Trust, N. (National C. (2022). Postnatal depression in dads and co-parents: 10 things you should know | Life as a parent articles & support | NCT. [online] NCT (National Childbirth Trust).
- Koch, S., De Pascalis, L., Vivian, F., Meurer Renner, A., Murray, L. and Arteche, A., 2019. Effects of male postpartum depression on father–infant interaction: The mediating role of face processing. Infant Mental Health Journal, 40(2), pp.263-276.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Depression During and After Pregnancy . [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Saxbe, D.E., Edelstein, R.S., Lyden, H.M., Wardecker, B.M., Chopik, W.J. and Moors, A.C., 2017. Fathers’ decline in testosterone and synchrony with partner testosterone during pregnancy predicts greater postpartum relationship investment. Hormones and Behavior, 90, pp.39-47.
- Al-Abri, M.A., 2015. Sleep Deprivation and Depression: A bi-directional association. Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, 15(1), p.e4.
- Goodman, J.H., 2004. Paternal postpartum depression, its relationship to maternal postpartum depression, and implications for family health. Journal of advanced nursing, 45(1), pp.26-35.
- Wang, D., Li, Y.L., Qiu, D. and Xiao, S.Y., 2021. Factors influencing paternal postpartum depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 293, pp.51-63.
- Hou, Y., Hu, P., Zhang, Y., Lu, Q., Wang, D., Yin, L., Chen, Y. and Zou, X., 2014. Cognitive behavioral therapy in combination with systemic family therapy improves mild to moderate postpartum depression. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, 36, pp.47-52.
- Cameron, E.E., Hunter, D., Sedov, I.D. and Tomfohr-Madsen, L.M., 2017. What do dads want? Treatment preferences for paternal postpartum depression. Journal of affective disorders, 215, pp.62-70.