After welcoming a new baby, it is important to have a strong support system in place. In this Giddy article, Julian Lagoy, MD, discusses common symptoms in male postpartum depression and how men can receive support.
Sleepless nights, feelings of isolation, and the overall radical life change after the birth of a child can be difficult for all new parents. It’s true whether the baby is a couple’s first or their fourth. This difficulty is compounded when the mom or dad also experiences postpartum depression (PPD).
Though it’s typically discussed as it pertains to mothers, PPD can impact fathers as well.
“PPD in men can happen in about 8% to 10% of fathers and has the highest prevalence within three to six months after childbirth,” said Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health in San Jose, California.
Delayed PPD can occur when parents have to go back to work or readjust to “normal” life. The help mothers and fathers receive from friends and family just after a baby is born can sometimes ward off mental health conditions, which is why it’s crucial to establish a strong social support system that can be utilized past the first few weeks of the postpartum period.
Common symptoms of postpartum depression in men and women vary by individual case. PPD symptoms in women include:
- Feelings of sadness, apathy or detachment
- Lack of energy
- Trouble sleeping through the night
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Issues bonding with the baby
- Feelings of guilt
- Problems concentrating
Male postpartum depression can present in other ways. Paternal postpartum depression (PPPD) may present as:
- Hostility and anger
- Isolation and withdrawal
- Risky behaviors such as increased substance use
The impact of PPD on men can be wide-reaching in the family unit. Paternal PPD is associated with an increased risk of a poor marital relationship and, in some cases, violent behavior toward the female partner, according to a 2021 article published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
Why PPD happens
Postpartum depression is often attributed to postpartum hormonal changes in women. While less is known about PPD in men, there is some evidence that new fathers also experience a connection between hormones and the condition.
Fathers with lower aggregate testosterone levels reported more depressive symptoms at two months and nine months after childbirth, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior. Fathers with higher aggregate testosterone levels showed more fathering stress and more intimate partner aggression at 15 months after childbirth.
“There are numerous prevention methods for PPD in men,” Lagoy said. “A few tips are to educate yourself about it, sleep and eat well, regularly engage in exercise, set yourself up with family and friend support during childbirth, and have a strong support network, if at all possible, during the postpartum period with the new baby.”
Help for postpartum depression
Sometimes you can try everything to prevent or avoid postpartum depression and it still happens. It might be more difficult for men to seek help.
Beyond the stigma, the sheer exhaustion of parenthood can make understanding yourself and recognizing issues more difficult than usual.
“Significant life adjustment and sleep deprivation in the early months of postpartum can make it difficult to self-reflect on how you’re really doing,” Loo explained.
“One study found that only 3.2% of new fathers sought out mental health services,” she said. “This can likely be attributed to societal messages men receive about what it means to be both a man and a father.”
Another reason new dads might have trouble reaching out? Men have fewer interactions with the healthcare system during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
“A woman might have 10 to 15 prenatal appointments during a typical pregnancy, as well as one to two postpartum appointments,” Diamond explained. “Mothers are also more likely to take the baby to their wellness checks with the pediatrician during their first year of life, which is another seven appointments.
Treating postpartum depression in men
Treating PPPD starts with seeking help, which is not always as easy as it sounds. Societal stigmas may tell you it’s “unmanly” or unnecessary to address mental health struggles, but the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. You support your partner and your new baby best when you are in a healthy headspace.
There are ways to treat postpartum depression in men, and it starts with screening. While there are no specific mandates or guidelines for fathers, screening for PPPD can be done through measures such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) or the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9 or 2), Diamond said.
“This is an important topic that has not been discussed very much in mental health,” Lagoy said. “I think we all need to be aware that postpartum depression can happen in men and screen men more regularly in order to care best for our patients.”
Treatment for paternal PPD is largely similar to treatment for maternal PPD. Depending on the severity of your situation, your doctor or therapist may recommend counseling, antidepressants, or lifestyle changes.
Read the full Giddy article with sources.