It’s not just mothers who suffer from postpartum depression. A new study has revealed that many fathers also experience the baby blues after the birth of their child.
The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, found that postpartum depression in fathers is very real, with estimates that around 10 percent of men report symptoms of depression following the birth of a child, about double the typical rate of depression in males.
The researchers analyzed online posts from new fathers who shared their stories on blogs, websites, forums, and chat rooms. They found that fathers felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and trapped by their new responsibilities. They also felt neglected by their wives, the healthcare system, and society.
One father wrote: ‘I feel like I have lost my wife and my life. I love my son but I hate what he has done to my marriage.’
Another said: ‘I feel like a failure as a father. I can’t bond with my baby and I don’t know what to do.’
The study also highlighted the lack of information and support for men with postpartum depression. Many fathers said they didn’t know that men could have postpartum depression and women who saw the signs were unsure what to call it.
The researchers said: ‘There is a need for greater awareness and recognition of paternal postpartum depression. Fathers should be screened for depression during the first year postpartum and offered treatment or referral if needed.’
But what causes postpartum depression in fathers? According to experts, one of the possible factors is hormonal changes, especially lower testosterone levels, in new dads.
Testosterone is the male hormone that promotes muscle mass, body hair growth, sexual arousal, and competitive behavior. Many studies have found that testosterone dips in new fathers across the animal kingdom, as well as in humans.
This might be an evolutionary adaptation to make men more invested in pair-bonding and paternal caregiving. However, it could also have negative effects on their mood and well-being.
A study by the University of Southern California found that fathers with lower testosterone reported more depressive symptoms at two and nine months postpartum. However, the same study also found that fathers with higher testosterone were more likely to have partners who reported more depressive symptoms at nine and 15 months postpartum.
The researchers explained: ‘Higher paternal testosterone may protect against paternal depression, but it contributed to maternal distress and suboptimal family outcomes in our sample.’
They suggested that higher testosterone might make men more aggressive, less empathetic, and less attentive to their partners’ needs. This could lead to relationship dissatisfaction and conflict, which in turn could trigger maternal depression.
The study concluded: ‘Interventions that supplement or alter men’s testosterone may have unintended consequences for family well-being.’
Postpartum depression in fathers can have serious consequences for themselves, their partners, and their children. It can impair their ability to bond with their infants, increase their risk of substance abuse and suicide, and affect their children’s cognitive and emotional development.
Therefore, it is important for new fathers to seek help if they feel depressed after the birth of their child. They should not feel ashamed or alone, as they are not the only ones who struggle with this condition.
As one father wrote: ‘I wish I had known sooner that this was a thing. I wish I had talked to someone about it. I wish I had gotten help.’