Fathers (and partners) are often the biggest supporters of new moms when they face the struggle of postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety (PPA). These fathers and partners are on the frontlines, witnessing the difficulties of their loved one. Perhaps not surprisingly, PPD affects dads and partners, too.
Sometimes, the stress and resulting fatigue of new parenthood and supporting a struggling mother turn into paternal PPD. Now the father, or partner, is faced with their own struggle to maintain balance and wellbeing for themselves.
In a 2010 Canadian study on dads’ experiences with PPD, researchers found that many of them experienced anxiety and difficulty sleeping, as well as other classic symptoms of anxiety and depression.1
Although PPD is often attributed to hormone shifts in the transition to motherhood, these findings suggest that there’s more to it than that. And that dads are at risk too.
The same study found that those fathers who attended therapeutic interventions with their partners came away feeling unsupported or even ignored during the process.1
It remains to reason that even though we are starting to address the needs of new moms, we are not doing enough to support new dads. Especially those at risk for PPD.
To illustrate my point, a 2012 study in the U.S. found that up to 50% of partners of women who experience PPD will also experience symptoms of depression themselves. Often, the onset is later than it was for the mother, and it is possibly more gradual.2
This can mean that paternal (or partner) postpartum depression is harder to spot—but that doesn’t make it any less significant.
Uncovering How PPD Affects Dads
Mothers are screened for PPD at their infant’s milestone checkups as well as at their own 6-week postpartum visit to the OBGYN. Some research suggests that if a mother scores in the moderate range for symptoms of PPD, the father/partner should also be screened.3
As healthcare practices stand now, fathers aren’t screened at all.
Not only aren’t they screened, a majority of dads report feeling uninformed regarding postpartum depression.2 They might be unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms, or unaware of the strategies available to address them.
These are some of the common factors that increase the risk of postpartum depression in both parents:
Stress & Fatigue
Unfortunately, the biggest factors related to having a new baby are also factors relating to instability in mental and emotional health. The stress of entirely upending your old routine, tending to a crying baby, and losing sleep can wear on you. New moms and dads become fatigued from the intensity of the demands of new parenthood.
These demands only increase if you are also supporting a partner who is going through postpartum depression. It creates additional responsibilities and worry for the caregiver. He is now trying to maintain the happiness and wellbeing of not only the infant but also the mother and the family as a unit.
And dads often face additional burden of financially supporting their families.
Just as stress and fatigue affect dads, we have to be aware that PPD affects dads, too.
Marital & Relationship Difficulties
Stress and pressure often result in arguments about everything from how to parent to who unloaded the dishwasher last. Stress also creates heightened emotional reactivity, which can cycle into more and more frequent arguments.
New parents struggling with PPD often report decreased satisfaction with their relationships. Postpartum depression may creates difficulties between partners in connecting, communicating, and engaging in the things you used to enjoy together.
Frustration & Helplessness
Many dads and partners report feeling frustrated and helpless in the face of the new mom’s struggle. It may not be clear how to help, and the situation can feel like it will last forever. Sometimes this can even lead to feelings of anger and resentment.
Postpartum depression clearly affects the connection between parents and their connection to their baby. It also affects the health and well-being of each family member as well as the family as a unit.
As a result, it’s important for dads and partners to recognize how PPD affects the new mom—and it is just as important to recognize how PPD affects dads and partners.
Much less research has been done on effective interventions for fathers or partners experiencing PPD than for mothers. However, what little has been done indicates that similar techniques to those used for mothers can be effective.
Interventions for PPD (for Dads/Partners and Moms)
Being informed about signs and symptoms of PPD combats feelings of helplessness and frustration. Knowledge gives dads and partners power to recognize the situation for what it is and gives them hope and confidence that it can be overcome.
Postpartum Dads is a great site with an overview of postpartum mood disorders, special topics, and dad stories about their personal experiences with PPD and PPD in their partners.
Maintain a Strong, Supportive Relationship
Maintaining a strong, supportive relationship with your partner is one of the biggest protective factors for the wellbeing of your family.
It takes work, and sometimes even the support of a professional, but open communication can result in more resistance to the difficulties of PPD for both of you.
Social Support Network
Finding and asking for help or emotional support from family and friends also provides a “protective factor.” Protective factors help balance out risk factors in mental and emotional health.
Despite a tendency to withdraw when under stress, research shows that feeling supported by your social network can increase your resiliency. It also decreases your perception of stress.4
Mental Health Support
Mental health support from a professional, in individual or couples counseling, can also help mitigate the symptoms of PPD. Research suggests that interventions involving both partners is more beneficial in treating postpartum depression, whether it’s just one person experiencing the symptoms or both.2
Peer support in a structured group, such as a support group or a meetup reduces feelings of isolation, stress, and frustration. Peers are other people in a similar time of life experiencing similar trials and joys.
A structured group grows your social support network and offers the benefit of wisdom gained by someone who was there just before you. Try a dads’ group like City Dads Group or The Dads Net.
What to Do When PPD Affects Dad, Too
Postpartum depression is an enormous strain on your partner, on your relationship, and on you. But there are strategies and interventions available to you and your partner.
And there are many, many other dads out there who have gone through this too.
If you would like to talk to a psychologist who specializes in both postpartum depression and evidence-based couples counseling techniques, call Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute phone consultation: (281)-267-1742.
Dr. Irena offers online therapy for women and couples in Texas and New York City. She uses research-proven method, known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples develop and maintain emotional connection. She has helped highly distressed couples be available and responsive to each other, access their resiliency, and strengthen their relationships.
If you would like to schedule a session, email Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute video consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (281)-267-1742.
Links in order of appearance:
- Letourneau, N., Donovan, J., Tryphonopoulos, P., & Duffett-Leger, L. (2010). Identifying the support needs of fathers affected by postpartum depression: A pilot study. Atlantic Health Sciences Prevention Research Fund.
- Letourneau, N. L., Dennis, C.-L., Benzies, K., Duffett-Leger, L., Stewart, M., Tryphonopoulos, P. D., … Watson, W. (2012). Postpartum Depression is a Family Affair: Addressing the Impact on Mothers, Fathers, and Children. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 33(7), 445–457. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2012.673054
- Kim, P., & Swain, J. E. (2007). Sad dads: paternal postpartum depression. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 4(2), 35–47.
- Milgrom, J., Hirshler, Y., Reece, J., Holt, C., & Gemmill, A. W. (2019). Social Support-A Protective Factor for Depressed Perinatal Women?. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(8), 1426. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16081426