The rate of fathers identified as experiencing postpartum depression during routine well-child visits in the 15 months after their infants' birth was almost the same as that of mothers, according to a study published recently online in JAMA Pediatrics.
This surprising finding, the result of parent screenings carried out during visits to pediatric primary-care clinics in Indianapolis, joins a rapidly growing body of research documenting the reality of paternal "baby blues."
For instance, an analysis that combined results from multiple studies of paternal prenatal and postpartum depression in 2010 and then repeated in 2016 showed prevalence rates of depression of 8 percent to 10 percent for fathers, with highest rates generally found three to six months after a baby was born (26 percent). Paternal depression compromises parenting skills as well as the ability of men to support their co-parent and partner. It also makes new fathers – who often receive less emotional support – feel ineffective as caregivers and ashamed to admit they are struggling.
The burgeoning research interest in male postpartum depression follows a similar trajectory to that of maternal postpartum depression. For decades, new moms suffered in silence due to the lack of recognition, outright denial, and stigmatization of women struck low by depression during pregnancy and after giving birth. Fortunately, there are several very effective treatments for depression, including psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.
You might question why fathers experience postpartum depression at all, given that hormonal changes during and after pregnancy are thought to be the key culprits in mothers' depression. But other factors associated with having a child are potent risk factors for the onset of depression, including sleep deprivation, and the other new stresses that babies bring, such as increased financial strain and the need to juggle dramatic changes in schedules, roles, and expectations.
The body of research on fathers' postpartum depression recommends: