We talk a lot about Postnatal Depression (PND), maternal mental health awareness and the importance of the fourth trimester healing time with what feels like the sole focus on mum. And that’s absolutely right and important.
But what about Dad? They may not have had the physical birth experience and then have to cope with feeding challenges and hormonal fluctuations. And yet they still do. They’ve witnessed the birth, seen you in pain and felt helpless, are thrown into parenthood, lack of sleep, supporting their partners, a change in the dynamics of your relationship, helping to look after your baby, new responsibilities, a change in finances. That can be a lot to take on and can be an overwhelming and triggering experience for them too. And yet so often their feelings are ignored. Having a baby is a huge change and can bring many wonderful experiences, as well as extra worries. Your partner may feel overwhelmed and isolated too.
The truth is that postnatal depression affects men too. Research has shown that about 1 in 3 new fathers are concerned for their own mental health after the arrival of their child. It is more common among men who have previously been diagnosed with depression, whose partners are suffering from postnatal depression or who are first-time fathers. Pregnancy, birth and parenthood affect both partners and we still have a little way to go in recognising that. Paternal Postnatal Depression and Paternal Mental Health issues are recognised conditions.
Did you know that Dad’s experience hormonal fluctuations too?
Men’s testosterone levels drop by almost 50 percent immediately after the birth of a child. Other hormones including oestrogen, cortisol and prolactin may also fluctuate in men after their babies arrive.
“Fatherhood depression is an underresearched area,” says Professor Lorraine Sherr, Head of Health and Psychology at London’s Royal Free Hospital. “It isn’t that fathers don’t want to engage on the subject, just that people haven’t really bothered targeting them.”
Things To Know:
- The peak time for postnatal depression in men is three to six months after the birth
- Dads who are under 25 are more likely to go through postnatal depression than Dads above this age
- Evidence also shows that not being in a relationship with the child’s mother increases the risk of male PND and mental health issues
Signs and Symptoms:
- Dads who are depressed are less likely to read, play with and tell stories to their babies and may find it harder to bond with their baby.
- They are more likely to be irritable, frustrated, aggressive and sometimes hostile.
- Dads may feel very low and inadequate which can manifest as not enjoying anything, finding it difficult to concentrate, a decrease in appetite, digestive issues, worrying at night and insomnia.
- There may be relationship changes or difficulties that aren’t just about being tired
- Dads may start to withdraw from family life, work and social situations
- They may feel helpless and uncertain about the future
- Symptoms of Paternal PND are actually very similar to Maternal PND, although it can sometimes take longer to develop.
What can you Do if you’re feeling like this?
- Don’t ignore how you’re feeling and just carry on.
- Don’t use drink, drugs or work as a crutch or a way of ignoring your feelings. It may only make things worse in the long run.
- Seek help. Don’t wait until things get worse or if/when you are asked by your health visitor about how well you’re coping. Talk to your GP or a health professional. Confide in friends or family.
- Talk to your partner. Parenting is not easy and you are in this together. Being honest about how you’re feeling may help them to understand the reasons behind your behaviour and support you as you seek help.
- Talk to other fathers. It may help to meet other new dads and talk about your experiences. There are many helpful websites including www.dadsmatteruk.org and www.netmums.com who have a section on Paternal PND.
- Do something that gives you a lift, releasing endorphins – our ‘happy hormones’ and helping your mood and energy levels.
- Spend time with your baby. As much as you feel able to. Even little things like cuddling and rocking them, giving them a gentle massage or baby reflexology massage, changing a nappy or feeding them. It helps their development as well as strengthening your bond.
There is NO shame in feeling like this. Postnatal depression in dads is treated the same as postnatal depression in mums with treatment options currently the same too: medication, talking therapies/counselling. You are not alone and there is support available for you.
The birthing process can also be a trigger for Paternal PND and anxiety. Witnessing your child’s birth is an amazing experience and powerful for bonding. However, sometimes birth doesn’t quite go the way you planned and you go to a more vulnerable, emotional place.
Women go into birth extraordinarily vulnerable. Their partners are their rock so those partners may not always feel they can show their worries, fears or vulnerabilities too. Historically, men are our hunter-gatherers, our warriors, and these primal instincts come to the fore during the birthing process. Or when they need to ask for directions (or don’t, as the case may be!)
If you’re a man who has struggled with the birth: Your partner may have felt in control of their birthing experience but you may have had a different experience and been affected by what you’ve witnessed. Birth trauma is real and can be a trigger for paternal mental health issues.
If you are reading this and feel any of the following, you aren’t alone and there is help and support available:
- you become emotionally overwhelmed talking about the baby’s birth or avoid looking at pictures or discussion of the birth
- you continue to feel that something bad is going to happen to your partner or the baby
- if there are things about the day that you haven’t told your partner
- if you dismiss your own feelings about the birth and have to keep telling yourself that you’re fine, that as long as everyone is ok, you are fine
- if you have a hard time listening to your partner’s experience
A message to Dads from the Birth Trauma Association
“Witnessing a traumatic birth can be very distressing, and some partners do suffer PTSD as a result. If that applies to you, please do seek professional help from your GP.”
What can you do?
Talk to someone you trust. Talk about your experience of the birth. Or ask your midwife or health visitor to arrange a birth debrief at the hospital for you and your partner. Write down your thoughts and experiences, journaling and getting your emotions out into a safe space can be cathartic. But most importantly, seek help. There is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Trauma, anxiety and paternal mental health issues can affect anyone and is not a sign of weakness.
“If you have concerns about your own or your partner’s mental health, do seek help from your GP who can help you to access support services.” (www.nct.org.uk)