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.
Experts 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.
“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.
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.
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.
Courtenay recommends these steps to assist your transition into parenthood:
This article isn’t meant as a substitute for medical advice. Consult with a doctor about any concerns you have.
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]