The Family; Postpartum Dads

We spend a lot of time in our society focusing on Mothers and their postpartum depression, which appears to occur following birth. But how about the father’s; How do they feel? What goes on in their minds and how do they cope? When a father is told, “We are going to have a baby”, the first thing that goes through his mind after adjusting to the news is, “How am I going to pay for this?” He thinks about money, current bills, future expenses, job security, education and all those things that men feel are their responsibility. Fathers get depressed too; it is not only mothers who suffer from  Postpartum depression; it’s just that fathers conceal it better.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now looking at the effects of postpartum depression on Fathers as well as mothers. The AAP states, “Every year, more than 400,000 infants are born to mothers who are depressed, which makes perinatal depression the most under diagnosed obstetric complication in America. Postpartum depression leads to increased costs of medical care, inappropriate medical care, child abuse and neglect, discontinuation of breastfeeding, and family dysfunction and it adversely affects early brain development.”

One of the reasons that postpartum depression has garnered so much attention is because it can have serious consequences for children. The new AAP report lists the many ways in which kids of depressed moms may be worse-off: “They are more likely to have developmental delays, social and emotional difficulties, cognitive and language problems, and more.”

US News Health reports the emerging work on fathers shows that depression in dads can have similar ripple effects. In his 2006 study, J.F. Paulson, Center for Pediatric Research, Eastern Virginia Medical School, found that melancholy fathers were less likely to play with or read, sing, or tell stories to their babies. A follow-up study, published in 2009, showed that these behavioral changes can have long-term effects on child development. Sad dads read to their kids less frequently, and the less reading aloud those fathers did, the worse their 2-year-olds scored on vocabulary tests.

The National Institutes of Health conducted studies on postpartum depression. These included a national sample of 5,089 two parent families. The NIH concluded that 14% of mothers and 10% of fathers exhibited high levels of depressive symptoms. They emphasized that postpartum depression is a significant issue for fathers. “In both mothers and fathers, depressive symptoms were negatively associated with positive enrichment activity with the child (reading, singing songs, and telling stories).”

University of Oxford psychiatrist Paul Ramchandani claims that children of depressed fathers are more likely to have some genetic risk for developing their own mood disorders. But there could easily be environmental mechanisms at work as well. “Depression affects how fathers interact with their children,” Ramchandani says. “They may be more irritable, they may be more withdrawn. That might affect children’s understanding of emotions and how they learn to regulate their own emotions.” Mood problems may also influence a fathers’ ability to work, affect the strength of his marital relationship, and more—any of which could put their kids at risk.

The accumulated evidence is clear: Depression in new dads—whatever the name, whatever the mechanism—is a real problem that has gone undiagnosed for many years. Men by their very nature are not allowed to talk about their inner selves or express their feelings. Society expects them to be the provider and not to admit any emotional stress. The stress on some men must be enormous, but they can’t express it and they have to bottle it all up because most of the attention when a newborn enters the family is focused on the mother and the baby.

Parents may miss their own doctor’s appointments but they never miss seeing the pediatrician. We need for pediatricians to look for depressed symptoms in fathers and offer advice and/or support systems where fathers as well as mothers may receive help from peer groups who have experienced these symptoms. Presently services are fragmented for fathers and are focused mainly upon mothers and their child.

Mary Alabaster, head of maternal mental health at South Essex Partnership Trust Runwell Hospital said: “Fathers psychological health is a neglected area. We do a lot for mothers, but not for dads. When I see women, I am often left wondering how their partners are coping.”


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