Preparing for Fatherhood: Understanding Paternal Postpartum Depression

Preparing for Fatherhood

Becoming a father is a remarkable milestone and represents an enormous life change. It introduces wonderful and rewarding human experiences for their budding family, as well its share of stresses and challenges—some more anticipated than others. 

Just as no one can explain how fulfilling becoming a parent can be, it’s also very hard to know how you’re going to react to some of its unexpected pressures. Everyone deals with sleepless nights, diaper disasters, health scares, and a general upheaval of your previous routine, but new dads also face unique complications that can lead to very serious mental and physical health problems. 

Postpartum depression is often associated with mothers, but research is increasingly showing that men are also susceptible to their own version when they transition to fatherhood. Exhaustion, anxiety, and the compulsion to quietly persevere isn’t a healthy combination, and part of preparing for fatherhood is being ready to take care of yourself as well as your family. 

Why are New Dads Depressed?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is defined as a major depressive episode that occurs soon after the birth of a child. While most often associated with mothers, PPD can also be found in men, and is estimated to impact 1 in 10 new dads.

There are many potential factors that go into putting dads at risk for paternal PPD. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Sleep Deprivation: All new parents struggle with getting enough sleep and often don’t realize how close they are to running on empty. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of being well-rested, and fathers who lack recovery time are at increased risk for conditions like depression and anxiety. 
  • History of Depression: A personal or family history can put men at greater risk for PPD. 
  • Maternal PPD: Men with a partner experiencing PPD are at increased risk of developing PPD on their own, with up to half of all men with a depressed partner showing signs of depression themselves.
  • Feeling Disconnected: Many dads want to be active participants in the care of their new baby, but sometimes end up feeling like they're on the outside. As the bond between mother and child begins to strengthen, fathers may feel sidelined. 
  • Hormonal Shifts: Believe it or not, men experience hormonal changes right alongside their partner throughout pregnancy. This often includes a decline in testosterone, and that change can lead to shifts in mood.

Running parallel to these potential causes of PPD in new fathers are all the stressors that accompany all major life changes and new responsibilities. Having a new child who is fully dependent on you to take care of it can introduce a range of fresh and unexpected fears and anxieties that have to be managed in conjunction with existing issues. 

Also, the financial stress of balancing work and covering new expenses while trying to support their partner can be intense. Many men have a breadwinner mentality that compels them to bottle up the pressure and downplay symptoms of PPD both as they are preparing for fatherhood and after. Also, while most mothers have access to maternity leave, paternity leave still lags far behind in most states. Fathers are often forced to return to the pressures of a full-time schedule with barely any time to adapt and adjust. As a result, PPD in new fathers can easily go unaddressed until it’s a major problem.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression in Fathers

Men preparing for fatherhood are at risk for depression before, during, and after the birth of their child. Knowing the signs and symptoms of PPD in fathers—many of which are often atypical relative to what healthcare professionals consider traditional signs of depression—is key to helping men suffering in silence. 

Family, friends, and health workers should be aware of the following in new fathers:

  • Low motivation
  • Headaches, muscle aches, and stomach or digestion issues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Withdrawing from relationships
  • Displays of sudden anger, outbursts, or violent behavior
  • Increased risk-taking or impulsive behavior
  • Turning to substances such as alcohol or prescription drugs
  • Irritability
  • Working a lot more or a lot less

Compounding the challenges associated with PPD is the increased potential for new fathers to experience anxiety. These thoughts can easily spiral out of control if left unchecked, and any of the following may be evidence of a serious developing issue:

  • Excessive and persistent worrying
  • A sense of impending doom
  • Constant nervousness
  • Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder

Getting Ahead of the Game

Knowing potential risk factors and being able to identify the signs and symptoms of PPD in fathers is important, and ideally, families should take some time to talk about potential challenges when preparing for fatherhood. A handful of simple conversations about potential triggers can help men mitigate a lot of stress once the baby arrives.

Invite Active Participation: A lot of stress and anxiety comes from the fear of the unknown. Many feel unprepared or uncertain as they prepare for parenthood. Active participation in the pregnancy, supporting their partner, and learning what to expect during and after delivery will help fathers feel involved and prepared. Also, fathers are usually welcome to join their partners in classes to prepare for the birth of a newborn, and it can be a rewarding and informative experience for the whole family. 

Talk to a Financial Planner: Money is a top challenge for families even in the simplest times. With proactive conversation and some professional guidance, new fathers will know what to expect and how to best navigate the expenses of having a child.

Lean into Support: As the baby’s arrival date approaches, soon-to-be fathers should lean into their support system. Reinforcing relationships and being open to advice will help fight the fear of the unknown. Also, talking to other fathers and learning from their experiences may open the conversation on sensitive topics like depression and anxiety. There are plenty of pages for new dads on social media, as well as in-person and online groups that can connect them with prospective parents going through similar pressures. 

Seek out Help: As men are preparing for fatherhood, it’s normal to occasionally feel overwhelmed. It’s important to seek out help sooner rather than later and work to solidify a healthy mindset before the baby arrives. Once the newborn is here and the chaos begins, it’s easy to put their own best interest on the back burner as they focus on their family.

Increase Your Understanding of Postpartum Depression in Men Preparing for Fatherhood

Men are often overlooked when it comes to postpartum depression, but with about 10% of fathers already at risk for anxiety and depression, it’s a conversation well worth having. Mental health challenges are often stigmatized, and in the frenzy preparing for fatherhood it’s easy for something like PPD to be swept under the rug.

Premiere is helping healthcare professionals identify and address this very real challenge with courses like Fatherhood in the Shadows - Addressing Postpartum Depression in Fathers created by Judith Wika MSN, CNM, FACNM, and Megan Arbour Phd, RN, CNM, CNE. 

Through expert-created, science-backed continuing education content, Premiere is guiding clinicians to understand, diagnose, and manage PPD in fathers and support new families as they prepare to enter a beautiful new chapter of their lives. 

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