It’s easy to focus on mums in the postnatal period. But let’s not forget dads, who might also need support.
Whether it’s sleep deprivation, money worries, new responsibilities, or the relationship dynamic shifting, dads also have a lot to take on board. This is a huge life change for both parents. On top of this, dads might feel guilty about what their partner is going through, knowing they aren’t the ones breastfeeding at 3am or healing from labour and birth.
Here’s what you need to know about postnatal depression in men.
1. Dads can experience depression in the first year after birth
The number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population (Davé et al, 2010). First time dads are particularly vulnerable (Fatherhood institute, 2010). One in ten dads-to-be will also become depressed during their partner’s pregnancy (Stadtlander, 2015).
2. Postnatal depression in men often goes undiagnosed
The peak time for postnatal depression in men is three to six months after the birth (Fatherhood Institute, 2010). As with postnatal depression in mums, it often goes undiagnosed. The symptoms can look a lot like the everyday stresses of having a newborn (Musser et al, 2013).
"If you have concerns about your own or your partner’s mental health, do seek help from your GP who can help you to access support services."
3. Hormonal changes can play a role
Just as with mums, changes in hormones might make postnatal depression in dads more likely (Saxbe et al, 2017). Hormones including testosterone, oestrogen, cortisol, vasopressin, and prolactin may change in dads during the period after their babies arrive (Kim and Swain, 2007).
4. Postnatal depression in dads is more likely if there is maternal postnatal depression too
If one of you is experiencing emotional or mental health difficulties, it's more likely that the other is too. Of fathers with depressed partners, 24% to 50% experience depression themselves (Fatherhood Institute, 2010).
5. A range of factors can make dads more likely to get postnatal depression
Dads who are under 25 are more likely to go through postnatal depression than their older counterparts (Davé et al, 2010). Yet age isn’t the only risk factor for postnatal depression in men. Other major risk factors include a history of depression and anxiety; financial pressures, and evidence also shows that not being in a relationship with the child’s mother (Huang and Warner, 2005; Wee et al, 2010; Nazareth, 2011).
Other factors that make postnatal depression in men more likely include: sleeping or crying issues with the baby; drug abuse or dependence; and feeling unsupported by their partners (Huang and Warner, 2005; Fatherhood Institute, 2010; Stadtlander, 2015). However, the cause and effect is unclear so these factors might not necessarily be the direct cause of mental health difficulties.
6. Postnatal depression in dads can show itself in different ways
Symptoms can include:
fear, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty about the future
withdrawal from family life, work and social situations
frustration, irritability, cynicism and anger
negative parenting behaviours
alcohol and drug use
physical symptoms like indigestion, changes in appetite and weight, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, toothaches and nausea.
(Musser et al, 2013; Stadtlander, 2015)
7. Postnatal depression in dads can take its toll on their relationships
Postnatal depression in dads canaffect their relationship with the baby’s mother. It can also affect the relationship they have with their child. They may play and engage less with their children and talk more negatively about and to them. They may sing and read less to their children, and may discipline them more harshly.
8. Postnatal depression in dads can have an impact on the development of their child
Dads’ depression is associated with emotional, social and behavioural problems as well as developmental delay in their children (Fatherhood Institute, 2010). The association is stronger when a father experiences antenatal as well as postnatal depression, and when his symptoms are particularly severe. There is also a stronger association when mum also has mental health problems (Stadtlander, 2015).
9. Screening is available
You might associate screening more with physical illnesses but mental health diagnoses are slowly catching up. Men who are concerned should pop over to NHS Choices and use the depression screening tool. If you’re concerned, see your GP or call NHS 111.
10. Postnatal depression in dads is treated the same as postnatal depression in mums
The treatment of paternal postnatal depression is in its early stages. Currently, the options for treatment are the same as for mothers with psychotropic medication and/or talking therapies (Nazareth, 2011; NHS Choices, 2016). Relationship counselling may also be useful (Musser et al, 2013).
Most, importantly share how you're feeling. You're not alone and support is available.
This page was last reviewed in February 2018
Our support line offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses that are a great way for both parents to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
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Fatherhood Institute. (2010) Research Summary: FATHERS AND POSTNATAL DEPRESSION. Available from:http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/2010/fatherhood-institute-research-summary-fathers-and-postnatal-depression [Accessed 1st February 2018].
Huang C, Warner L. (2005) Relationship characteristics and depression among fathers with newborns. Social Service Review 79(1). Available from: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/426719 [Accessed 1st February 2018].
Kim P, Swain J. (2007) Sad dads: paternal postpartum depression, Psychiatry, 4(2):35-47. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922346/ [Accessed 1st February 2018].
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Nazereth I. (2011) Should men be screened and treated for postnatal depression? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics; 11(1):1-3. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1586/ern.10.183?scroll=top&needAccess=true [Accessed 1st February 2018].
NHS Choices. (2014) Depression self assessment. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/depression.aspx [Accessed 1st February 2018].
NHS Choices. (2016) Postnatal depression pages. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Postnataldepression/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed 1st February 2018].
Saxbe DE, Schetter CD, Simon CD, Adam EK, Shalowitx MU. (2017) High paternal testosterone may protect against postpartum depressive symptoms in fathers, but confer risk to mothers and children. Hormonal Behaviour; 95:103-112 Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28757312 [Accessed 1st February 2018].
Stadtlander L. (2015) Paternal postnatal depression. International Journal of Childbirth education; 30(2):11-13. Available from: https://search.proquest.com/openview/d4950af74618239aa64b8b53f96d5713/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=32235 [Accessed 1st February 2018].
Wee KY, Skouteris J, Pier C, Richardson B, Milgrom J. (2010) Correlates of ante- and postnatal depression in fathers: a systematic review. Journal of Affective Discord; 130(3):358-77. Available from: http://www.jad-journal.com/article/S0165-0327(10)00447-7/fulltext [Accessed 1st February 2018].