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Dads and postnatal depression

Dads and postnatal depression

Postnatal depression (PND) is generally only thought of as affecting new mums, and is assumed to be a result of changes in hormones or after a traumatic birth. People understand these causes and are likely to be sympathetic, but when a new dad admits he’s feeling depressed, the reaction isn’t usually as compassionate, with many being asked: “What have you got to be depressed about? You haven’t been through anything like what your partner’s experienced – so just be supportive and get on with it.”

While PND is, undoubtedly, more common in women with two in five new mums affected, it’s thought that one in 28 dads (some studies put this as high as one in 10) experiences PND during the first year of their baby’s lives – with around 700,000 births a year in the UK, that’s about 25,000 men. These numbers are higher than the figures for depression in men without babies/children and the real figure is probably higher still, but many dads feel uncomfortable admitting it. Male PND occurs mainly in the first year, particularly when your baby is between three and six months old, and younger dads are more vulnerable than older.

What are some of the symptoms of PND in dads?

  • Feelings of uselessness and low self-esteem
  • Feelings of anxiety from increased responsibilities and increased workload at home
  • The sense that you never have any ‘time off’ to relax
  • A sense that your partner/family thinks you’re of no use with the baby
  • A feeling of not being connected to your baby, or your partner
  • A sense that you can’t look after your baby or your partner
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Low sex drive
  • Doing badly at work
  • Change in appetite

Why have I got PND?
Postnatal depression in dads isn’t well understood, but you may be more vulnerable if you have a personal or family history of depression; the risk is also higher with younger dads, and dads without financial security. Then there are the more obvious, practical factors such as extreme lack of sleep, anxiety over a baby that’s unwell or cries a lot, stress from feeling unable to help your partner if she’s not coping, and so on. All these factors can contribute to feelings of depression.

What can I do to help myself?
As a dad, you may feel that you don’t ‘deserve’ to have PND – after all, you haven’t given birth or had massive changes in your body or hormones. But depression can affect anyone – and the most important thing to remember is that your baby doesn’t know you’re feeling all these things. To her, you’re still one of the most important people in her life. She knows and adores your smell and voice, and doesn’t judge you in any way. She can’t tell you this yet, or show you in obvious ways, but you are a huge part of her tiny world.

Even if you don’t feel like it, try to do the things you think dads ‘should’ be doing to help form strong bonds between you and your little one. Cuddle your baby, help feed and bathe her, take your shirt off and lay her on your chest skin-to-skin. Give her a little massage, read to her and snuggle together on the sofa.

Try the ‘copying’ game – poke your tongue out and wait for her to do the same. It might not seem much, but this will help show you that she has formed a connection with you and will help you feel it from your side as well.

Try to meet other dads in your neighbourhood and spend time with them and their babies – even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing when exhausted and depressed. If nothing else, it will give you the chance to compare notes on lack of sleep (or whatever) with someone who completely gets what you’re going through.

Exercise is good for you too – promoting better sleep, getting the endorphins flowing and giving you some perspective on your life. You may be too exhausted to do more than a 10-minute walk in the park at first – but that’s a start so try to make time to fit some in each day.

And try not to worry too much – be reassured that this phase is more common than you might think. It’s also good to know that PND in dads usually drops off sharply when your baby is around a year old.

What if I still feel I can’t cope?
If you’re totally overwhelmed, concerned that one day your temper will snap and you’ll lash out, or you’re so depressed you want to ‘run away from it all’ – then talk to someone you trust, and/or your GP immediately.

Your doctor will have a lot of experience in this area and may run tests to see if there’s any underlying problem (ie thyroid issues) that may be causing your depression. They’ll discuss treatment options with you, such as exercise, diet, cognitive behavioural therapy and, in certain circumstances, medication – they’ll also be able to recommend or refer you to local help groups.

The NCT offers online support for dads,  as do PANDAS (Pre and Post-Natal Depression Advice and Support.


The above information is not medical advice, for reference only / from : Michelle

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