It’s supposed to be the happiest time of your life – the arrival of a new baby. But, it isn’t always so great. New moms can suffer from an array of perinatal disorders, but male postpartum depression is also very real, and can leave a family struggling. Jenna Berendzen, ARNP, UnityPoint Health provides a unique perspective—not only does she have specialized training in postpartum depression (PPD), she and her husband lived through it after the birth of their first son. She explains male postpartum depression symptoms, an easy way to approach a new dad who might be struggling and the single biggest risk factor, which leaves men 50 percent more vulnerable to paternal postpartum depression.
Male Postpartum Depression
Berendzen explains male postpartum depression as a change in a new father’s mood and functionality within the first year after a baby is born, adopted or added to the family structure. Male postpartum depression is also known as paternal postnatal depression (PPND).
“Men can have a baby blues period, just like women. It’s an adjustment period, getting used to sleep changes and new roles and responsibilities,” Berendzen says. “This very normal period isn’t concerning or needs to be examined. Male postpartum depression is different and needs intervention.”
Male Postpartum Depression Signs
Male postpartum depression can manifest in many ways. However, there are some common, identifiable symptoms to look for in any new dad.
- Risk-taking behaviors including substance and alcohol use
- Detachment from the family
- Easily stressed
- Physical symptoms including headaches and stomachaches
Risk Factors for Male Postpartum Depression
“We know that 50 percent of men whose partner has postpartum depression, have an increased risk of postpartum depression themselves. That’s huge. So much focus is on the woman, but we know that it’s important to really examine how he is doing if mom is dealing with postpartum depression, because it can drastically increase the risk for him,” Berendzen says.
She says this is something she personally experienced and encourages others to keep a watchful eye.
“I suffered from severe postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my first son, in 2011. At the time, I was sent to the only perinatal psych unit in the county. My husband went through wondering, ‘who is this person I married and what happened to her?’ He had a lot on his plate since he was worrying about me and starting to raise this new baby. About two years afterwards, we looked back and could see that he likely suffered too. Yet, he didn’t feel like he could say anything because he didn’t give birth, he didn’t have a C-section. He felt sort of pushed aside and the entire time he was trying to carry the load of the entire family,” Berendzen says.
Additional risk factors include:
- Lack of sleep
- A personal history of mental illness
- A strained relationship with the spouse
- Concerns or high expectations about becoming a father
- Financial concerns
- Fears about the changing dynamics within the family structure
How Postpartum Depression is Different in Men Compared to Women
“A lot of people try to simplify postpartum depression as just the drop in hormones that women experience. If that were the case, we wouldn’t see depression in other people besides the actual person who physically gave birth. With male postpartum depression, research suggests there’s a hormone change in men in the form of changes to testosterone levels when baby is born. With PPD in general, hormones do play a role, but it’s about a lot more including psychological and social aspects as well,” Berendzen says.
A few other differences between male postpartum depression and female postpartum depression:
- 1 in 10 men experience postpartum depression compared to 1 in 7 women
- Women usually see peak symptoms around months two to three while men usually peak later in the first year
- Men tend to show more anger and risk-taking behaviors while women tend to display crying, hopelessness, loss of interest and guilt
How to Recognize Male Postpartum Depression
“It tends to be someone else, not the father himself who identifies the depression in a new dad,” Berendzen says.
She says the best thing for anyone to do is to simply ask a new dad how he’s doing, and reaffirm you’re there if he need anything. Berendzen says it can be especially helpful if it’s another dad who reaches out. If you or the father himself recognizes some concerning symptoms, it’s important to get help. The father should start by reaching out to a provider he already has a relationship with, like a primary care provider.
If the new dad isn’t ready to reach out for help yet, here are some other resources to help him start that process:
Berendzen says a male diagnosed with postpartum depression will often get help in the form of therapy and possibly medication. She says the medication isn’t a long-term solution, but rather is usually prescribed for about nine months to a year.
“Therapy helps, medication helps, but a lot of the more integrative practices of yoga, mindfulness and daily meditation can have really profound effects on depression and anxiety, as much as medication. So, make sure to fit in a little time each day, as little as 15 minutes is fine, to find a little calm in the chaos a new baby can bring,” Berendzen says.
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