Postpartum Depression a Concern for New Dads Too

Becoming a parent, welcoming a child into your life through biology or adoption, comes with many things you can expect. You can buy what’s necessary for baby’s physical needs, you can study up by reading book after book, you can even anticipate midnight feedings and disrupted sleep.

It’s hard to anticipate how you’ll feel. Thankfully it is becoming more common for mothers to openly discuss and get help for postpartum depression. It’s a myth, however, to think that only biological mothers are subject to this hormonal rollercoaster.

Postpartum Depression pbs rewireExperts now understand that this type of depression, which is often coupled with anxiety, can affect basically anyone who’s become a parent to a new baby. As many as one in four new dads experience postpartum depression, according to William Courtenay, psychologist and founder of Postpartum Men.

Your hormones, they are a-changin’

“We normally assume changes in hormones with pregnant women and nursing moms,” but research shows that new fathers also experience hormonal changes, Courtenay said.

Testosterone levels drop, estrogen levels increase, and levels of prolactin (a hormone that’s associated with milk production in nursing moms) increase.

The extent of these changes “can vary widely from person to person,” he said. And it’s a delicate balance.

What about adoptive and other non-birth parents, such as “the other mother” in lesbian relationships?

“Adoptive parents can and do experience postpartum depression,” Courtenay said.

“The hormone question is more complicated, and there’s limited research on that topic. But…given that increases in men’s levels of the hormone prolactin…(that) occur after the birth of a child, even though men don’t breast feed their babies, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that these hormones also increase in adoptive mothers and fathers,” Courtenay said.

Recognizing the signs

The symptoms of postpartum depression vary from person to person. The disorder can manifest itself as everything from irritability to excessive working, drinking, stomach aches, to thoughts of suicide.

Wondering if your symptoms fit postpartum depression? You should bring your concerns to your doctor. The Center for Disease Control offers a symptom checklist to help guide your conversation.

Promoting mentally healthy parenthood

Take testosterone, for example. “There is sort of this optimal drop in testosterone that is really kind of best for the family,” according to Courtenay. Just the right amount of drop in this level can help fathers bond with their babies. Too much of a drop? Well, that can be a factor in postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression pbs rewire

Courtenay recommends these steps to assist your transition into parenthood:

  • Bolster your social network. “Men tend to rely primarily on their partner for support,” Courtenay said. When baby comes, in addition to other stress, some men experience “sort of a loss of their primary support in the postnatal period.” If you don’t have many people to reach out to, consider reaching out to other parents (in person or online) or even seeking out mentorship from a parent you’d like to emulate (whether that parent is your own or someone else’s).
  • See a therapist. Before the birth, this is especially important if you have a history of depression, are concerned that you might develop it, or have a rocky relationship with your partner. After the birth, it’s important to see one if you’re concerned about your mental health or think you could benefit from the support.
  • If you have depression – postpartum or otherwise – talk to your doctor about whether medication might help you. Many people suffering from postpartum depression see improvements after taking medication for a few months and then they are able to discontinue its use.
  • Concentrate on healthy sleep and exercise habits. For sleep, limit how much alcohol you drink at night before bed and don’t be afraid to use sleep aids if necessary, Courtenay advised. If you’re depressed, you might have difficulty motivating yourself to exercise, but you can always start small with activities you enjoy, such as walking or bike riding, he said.
  • Set up a budget that will help you alleviate your financial concerns as much as possible.
  • Meditate. Adjusting to life as a new parent means juggling way more than you ever have before. Finding the time to quiet your mind and center your thinking is even more essential now.

This article isn’t meant as a substitute for medical advice. Consult with a doctor about any concerns you have.

Rachel Crowell

Rachel Crowell is an Iowa-based writer exploring science and math. Rachel lives with Delilah, a golden retriever a stranger once called “the cutest thing in America.” Outside of STEM topics, Rachel also welcomes writing opportunities on everything from art to finance. Follow them on Twitter at @writesRCrowell. Reach them at [email protected]