Even men get the blues after childbirth

August 9, 2018, American Psychological Association
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

When it comes to postpartum depression, most people think of the mother's well-being, but research suggests that a similar proportion of men experience some form of depression after the birth of a child, according to presentations at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

"Much has been written about women's experiences of pregnancy and postpartum, most of it exploring negative reactions, ranging from to postpartum psychosis, and attributing them to unique physical changes women experience during pregnancy," said Dan Singley, Ph.D., of the Center for Men's Excellence in San Diego. "But the incidence rate of depression is comparable between new mothers and fathers. Postpartum depression can no longer be seen as primarily a pathological variant of female reproductive processes. The existing paradigm must be modified."

"The predominant narrative has attributed these to and fluctuations specifically related to pregnancy and birthing," said Sara Rosenquist, Ph.D., of the Center for Reproductive Health Psychology, in Cary, North Carolina, who presented in the same session. "It is highly unlikely that the hormonal disruptions of pregnancy and birthing would explain the whole picture if fathers and adoptive parents all experience at the same rates."

Until recently, surrounding childbirth has been perceived as a topic relevant only to women. Although much research has been devoted to maternal stress and postpartum depression, little has been devoted to identifying prevalence rates, causes, consequences and treatment of in new fathers, according to Singley.

"Recent research has shown that roughly 10 percent of new dads experience postpartum depression, and up to 18 percent have some type of anxiety disorder," Singley said. "Unfortunately, few psychologists receive focused training regarding identifying, assessing or treating common men's issues in the period from conception to a year or so post-childbirth. Because men tend not to seek during this period, the lack of scholarly attention to this vulnerable group reflects a commonly overlooked public health disparity."

And that rate of 10 percent is about in line with what adoptive mothers experience, according to Rosenquist.

Anthropologists have long observed that men sometimes exhibit symptoms reminiscent of pregnancy when their partner is pregnant, such as nausea, heartburn, abdominal pain, bloating or appetite changes. There is also evidence, in both human and animal studies, that close contact with a pregnant partner can induce hormonal changes that enhance and accelerate the onset of fatherly instincts in some men, according to Rosenquist. Men who experience sympathetic pregnancies also have measurably higher levels of prolactin (the hormone that allows women to produce milk) and experience a temporary drop in testosterone just after birth. But this only seems to occur in cultures where men and women have emotionally close, companionate partnerships and less so in more traditional cultures where men and women have separate domains. Taken together, this suggests that cultural variables are overlooked and hormonal variables are over emphasized in the current paradigm.

There are a variety of other factors that can contribute to depression and anxiety in new dads. In fact, sleep deprivation has been shown to be the single most predictive risk factor for anyone, at any time, said Rosenquist. The father's lack of sleep and the needs of an infant are exhausting, and time spent away from work can contribute to anxiety. New fathers can sometimes struggle with gender role conflict, should they have trouble conforming to what society says is the traditional role of a father, and may also question their ability to be a competent parent.

In calling for increased awareness of the problem, Rosenquist and Singley both recommended regular screening of new and expectant for signs of depression, especially if the father or mother has any history of mental health problems.

"But screening is not enough," said Rosenquist. "Screening does not distinguish between major depressive disorder, which sometimes requires treatment with medications in addition to psychotherapy, and adjustment disorder, which is more commonly better treated with psychotherapy alone."

Identifying depression in men can be a challenge, though, because the symptoms are different for men, according to Rosenquist. "Women are more likely to report feelings of sadness and frequent crying, whereas men are more likely to feel irritable and socially disconnected," she said.

Another thing men can do to help prevent postpartum is rely on friends for support during pregnancy and post-childbirth, according to Singley. "Fathers who maintain solid social support networks experience a buffer from the conflicts and demands associated with parenting while also providing role models which facilitate a sense of competence as a parent," he said.

Explore further: Know the signs of postpartum depression

More information: Session 1206: "Postpartum Depression in Men: Evidence That Calls for Refining a Paradigm," and "Fathers' Postpartum Mental Health: A Women's Issue," Symposium, Thursday, Aug. 9, 12-12:50 p.m. PDT, Room 104, Lobby Level—South Building, Moscone Center, 747 Howard St., San Francisco, Calif.

Related Stories

Know the signs of postpartum depression

June 14, 2018
(HealthDay)—Having a baby is a unique joy, yet it can also bring profound sadness to some women.

Women's wellness: Understanding depression and the gender gap

April 17, 2018
Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. Depression can occur at any age.

Hair cortisol levels predict which mothers are more likely to suffer postpartum depression

November 14, 2017
Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR), who belong to the Brain, Mind and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC, from its abbreviation in Spanish) and the Faculty of Psychology, have proven that cortisol levels present ...

Postpartum depression least severe form of depression in mothers

June 15, 2016
Postpartum depression—a household term since actress Brooke Shields went public in 2005 about her struggle with it—is indeed serious. But depression that begins before or during pregnancy is often more severe because ...

Postpartum depression: what you need to know

November 9, 2015
The birth of a baby is supposed to be a time of wonder, joy and happiness. But for some new moms, that time can be one of sadness and anxiety. Mayo Clinic certified nurse-midwife Julie Lamppa says 80 percent of new moms experience ...

Recommended for you

What social stress in monkeys can tell us about human health

December 11, 2018
Research in recent years has linked a person's physical or social environment to their well-being. Stress wears down the body and compromises the immune system, leaving a person more vulnerable to illnesses and other conditions. ...

Using neurofeedback to prevent PTSD in soldiers

December 11, 2018
A team of researchers from Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. has found that using neurofeedback could prevent soldiers from experiencing PTSD after engaging in emotionally difficult situations. In their paper published in the ...

The richer the reward, the faster you'll likely move to reach it, study shows

December 11, 2018
If you are wondering how long you personally are willing to stand in line to buy that hot new holiday gift, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the answer may be found in the biological rules governing how animals typically ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Trying to get people to agree? Skip the French restaurant and go out for Chinese food

December 11, 2018
Here's a new negotiating tactic: enjoy a family-style meal with your counterpart before making your opening bid.

These bacteria may be the key to treating clinical depression

December 11, 2018
We like to think of ourselves as individuals.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.