Dear New Mom:
First of all, congratulations on the birth of your daughter. Second, I am so glad you are bringing up this important issue. Postpartum depression (PPD) in men—while less common than postpartum depression in women—is a very real disorder. There isn’t a lot of research on it, but it is believed that 2 to 10 percent of new fathers can develop depression after their partners give birth. (PPD affects 10 to 20 percent of new mothers.) From what you describe, it sounds like your husband may be in that 2 to 10 percent.
The signs of postpartum depression in new dads are often different than they are in new moms. While women with PPD are usually sad and prone to crying, men are more likely to be exhausted, irritable, unusually angry, and have difficulty concentrating. Men will also say that they feel disengaged from their families. Like your husband, they often aren’t as interested in their babies as they thought they would be—and they may feel guilty about it. Some guys can be really hard on themselves for not truly being there for their partner and baby.
Interestingly, hormonal changes may play a part in PPD in men, just as they do in women. My colleagues and I, as well as others, have done studies looking at the changes in hormones that occur in women’s bodies during and after pregnancy and how that affects mental health. But researchers are only just starting to investigate this issue in men. What we know from preliminary research is that men can have shifts in cortisol and testosterone both during their partners’ pregnancies and in the first few months after birth. In fact, one study showed that men who are fathers of young children have testosterone levels that are 30 percent lower than men who aren’t fathers.
In addition, there are also factors that can increase a man’s chances of developing PPD. One of the biggest risks for both dads and moms is a history of depression. So if your husband has had depressive episodes in the past, it’s possible that the stresses of having a baby have triggered a new bout of depression.
As you know, new parenthood can be an incredibly trying time for both partners, as you adjust to caring for a newborn and coping with the inevitable sleep deprivation. Today, especially, the transition to hands-on fatherhood can be difficult for some men. Plus, pregnancy itself sometimes puts stress on a couple, particularly if there were infertility issues or past miscarriages.
My advice? Talk to your husband in a loving way about the changes you’ve noticed. Let him know that there’s a reason he’s feeling this way and that there are effective treatments—either talk therapy (which involves talking with a therapist and working toward solutions) or antidepressants or a combination of the two—that will help him feel like himself again. Encourage him to talk to his primary care doctor. Some men start to feel better after just a few weeks of treatment, but if symptoms are severe it may take months to see a marked improvement.
And don’t forget to pay attention to your own feelings. We know that when one spouse is depressed, the other may be, too. When both new parents are feeling down or overwhelmed, we sometimes recommend that they work with a therapist together.
Your husband is lucky to have you on his side. Recognizing mood changes and broaching them with your husband is the first step toward successful treatment, so that he can feel better, enjoy your baby, and fully participate in life together as a family.