Saturday, June 5, 2010

Do dads experience postpartum depression?

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of husbands experience depression sometime between their wives' first trimester and the end of the baby's first year, and 25.6 percent of new dads are depressed during the first 3 to 6 months of the baby's life -- in other words, 3 to 6 months postpartum.

That number is way up from a study reported in the Lancet in 2005, in which four percent of new fathers were found to have symptoms of postpartum depression.

When my first baby was born, my husband called me a semi-new mom, since I'd been a step mom for several years by then. My first was his fourth and, even though every child is different, of course, he was an old hand at the new-parent game by then.

New fathers generally don't have a wealth of information to fall back on. Pregnancy books are usually aimed at women, obviously, though there are a few notable exceptions, like Christopher Healy's Pop Culture: The Sane Man’s Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood and Dad's Pregnant, Too by Harlan Cohen. But dads-to-be and new fathers need help as much as moms do, and that's what we're talking about at's In the Parenthood column right now.

So many people expect that bond with the new baby to be instantaneous -- or the bond with older children to be unbreakable -- that there's a level of shock and shame that comes when a new parent doesn't feel immediate love for their squalling bundle of joy. (There was a heartbreaking post over at The Motherlode earlier this week, in which new parents admit that they don't feel in love with their children.) That feeling is usually considered maternal, which may be one reason that depression in new fathers tends to fly under the radar.

In an article in U.S. News & World Report, John Hyman tells reporter Dana Scarton that he felt "broken" by his lack of an instant connection with his newborn son. "Betsy fell in love. It was primal," he says. "I didn't have that experience. I thought I was broken. I remember thinking this was a dirty little secret I would have to deal with."

While male and female postpartum depression have similar symptoms, most people don't recognize them when they appear. Complicating matters is the fact that hormonal changes can trigger and affect the condition in women, but in men it's more likely to be triggered by the radical lifestyle changes brought on by having a squalling bundle of joy around the house. Men also deal with depression differently, and are more likely to work longer hours to escape the internal conflict or to act out in angry or destructive ways, with drug and alcohol abuse or extramarital affairs.

And the parents aren't the only ones who may be affected by it. As psychologist James F. Paulson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School who conducted the study with Sharnail D. Bazemore, tells U.S. News:

Children born into such families receive less attention from the depressed parent and are at increased risk for developing physical and emotional problems.... Depression in the father is thought to increase the likelihood that his children will act out or behave destructively. (Depression in the mother, by contrast, is associated with decreased overall health, learning problems, and a greater risk for developing depression.)

Moms and Dads, please weigh in: In retrospect, do you think you or your spouse suffered from postpartum depression? How did you deal with it?

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