When my baby daughter was born 17 years ago, I was prepared for the likelihood that I would experience some degree of “the baby blues,” as well as the possibility of postpartum depression. We had talked about it in my childbirth education classes, and being a therapist myself, I was well aware of the mood disorder that affects 15-20% of new mothers. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, is that while I thankfully made it through that first year of my daughter’s life with few mood swings, my husband wasn’t as lucky. It turns out that he was suffering from PPND (Paternal Postnatal Depression).
At the time, there was very little information about postpartum depression in men. In fact, many people thought, and still think today, that there is no such thing. Well according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 14 percent of American men experience postpartum depression after the birth of a child. PPND is very real. Like PPD in women, men’s postpartum depression is caused by hormonal, physical and emotional changes related to having a baby. Yes, you read that correctly, men experience hormonal changes during their partner’s pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Testosterone levels decrease, while estrogen and prolactin levels increase. According to Dr. Will Courtenay, an expert in depression in men, researchers speculate that this may be nature’s way of helping fathers bond with babies. While the hormonal changes aren’t as severe as what women experience, these shifts along with sleep deprivation and the emotional stress that comes from having a newborn, all contribute to PPND.
After our daughter was born, my husband put on weight. Friends and family joked that it was “sympathy weight.” Wait, isn’t that supposed to happen during my pregnancy, not after? While I wasn’t thrilled with his weight gain, what was truly upsetting to me was seeing my usually calm, stable husband become increasingly short-tempered and full of tension. I later found out these are common symptoms of PPND in men. While men certainly can exhibit the “textbook” symptoms of PPD in women (depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness, etc) more commonly symptoms in men include increased anger and conflict with others, frustration and irritability, violent behavior, weight changes, impulsiveness, and feeling easily stressed and discouraged.
According to Dr. Courtenay, men are more likely to avoid, deny and distract in response to depression and anxiety, which only compounds the problem and makes them less likely to seek help. PPND left untreated can not only affect a man’s well-being and his relationship with his partner, but studies show that it can have a long term impact on the psychological, social and behavioral development of his child. The good news is that PPND is treatable. With help and support, men can fully recover. Please don’t wait to seek help if you think that you or someone in your life may be suffering from PPND. A wonderful resource to check out is www.postpartummen.com.
By Jill Campbell, Psy.D.
Staff Psychologist at The Pump Station & Nurtury
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed by Dr. Jill Campbell, The Pump Station & Nurtury, and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Pregnancy Awareness Month (PAM) or any employee thereof. PAM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by Dr. Jill Campbell and The Pump Station & Nurtury.