When New Dads Feel Sad

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New fathers are affected by postpartum depression, too. This Father’s Day, learn how men can best cope with the transition into fatherhood.

It had been a few months since the birth of his son, but “Jake” couldn’t seem to shake his feelings of confusion, anxiety, and irritability.

“The baby only wanted to nurse, and I felt useless as a co-parent,” said the Northern California Kaiser Permanente member.

Unlike the baby blues, which typically go away a few weeks postpartum, his postpartum depression (PPD) is a common mental health condition. 

Cosette Taillac, LCSW, national strategic leader for Mental Health and Wellness at Kaiser Permanente, is Look insideKP Northern California’s source for information on this common yet often overlooked mental health condition in men.

Dads, You’re Not Alone

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 1 in 7 women will experience PPD, typically starting within 3 weeks after the baby is born. One in 10 men suffer from symptoms of depression, typically starting 3 to 5 months after the birth of their baby. PPD can occur up to 1 year after a baby is born.

New financial burdens, marital stress, and a lack of sleep are just some of the many lifestyle changes that contribute. Also, while moms are focused on their own emotional well-being and physical recovery postpartum, dads tend to keep in their own emotions.

Studies have shown that paternal depression can have a detrimental effect not just on dad’s mental health, but the emotional, cognitive, and social development of a child in their first few years.

Treating a new father for PPD can affect the overall health of a family. It’s important for dads to address these mood changes as soon as possible.

Take Good Care

It’s crucial to find time for self-care during the postpartum period — eating healthily, getting some quick exercise, and finding time to sleep.

Mom and dad should alternate nights of sleep so they’re not both up at the same time with the baby. Also, cutting down on activities and prioritizing more sleep and rest is hugely beneficial.

In fact, 70 percent of the time mood disorders can be treated just by getting better sleep.

Get Connected

Men tend to have smaller support circles in general, and if a man is feeling down, he also tends to not talk about it with friends.

To help combat this, dads can join a social media support group. The online format fits in well with the hectic lifestyle of a new parent and the anonymous setting may help some men feel safe expressing their feelings.

There’s a Light at the End of the Tunnel

In addition to the strategies mentioned above, in-person cognitive behavioral therapy is an option, starting with one’s general practitioner for guidance.

For those who are suffering from moderate to severe postpartum depression, medication, along with therapy, is also quite effective. People generally start to feel better 3 to 12 weeks after starting treatment.

As men enter fatherhood, it’s important to remember that taking care of mental health is a way of being a really good dad. Addressing it is a sign of strength.

Learn more about paternal postpartum depression and visit an online forum for support. 

Discussion2 Comments

  1. When my son was born (13 years ago) my wife had major health complications requiring her to stay in the ICU for a week. Since she was in ICU my son was placed in the natal ICU, though he was perfectly healthy. I want to tell everyone that our NICU staff was a godsend. I’d be bouncing back and forth between the two ICU’s and sometimes I was pretty much in a daze. Those nurses were so caring and dedicated to the babies and when I’d stop in to visit my son they would ask about my wife and took a picture of my son for her to see. Simple things that communicated human understanding and concern. They weren’t psychologists but real caring can make all the difference in the world.

  2. Susan Ralph IBCLC

    The suggestion that mom and dad alternate nights to sleep with a breastfeeding newborn isn’t helpful since dad can’t feed the baby. No matter what, mother must get up and feed the infant. If she choses to have dad feed the baby she still has to get up and pump or she will lose her milk. Newborns are the most awake in the middle of the night until about 43 weeks gestation. That coincides with mother’s higher prolactin levels being between midnight and 5 am. Napping in the day is the only reasonable way for parents to survive the first 1-3 months postpartum depending on how much milk a mother makes and her baby takes each feeding. Leaving milk in the breast so that mom can get more rest causes a feedback inhibitor in breastmilk to build up in the milk telling the breasts to ramp down production to prevent engorgement. Once babies are able to take enough milk during the day to meet most of their caloric needs, they start to have longer stretches of sleep at night. If mom’s milk supply isn’t managed according to nature’s design the first 3 weeks postpartum, she will still be making smaller amounts of milk in the day later on when babies are able to go longer between feedings provided they are making up for it when they are awake. Letting parents know what to realistically expect from babies with the scientific and anthropological reasons for their baby’s behavior, helps the parents see there is a light at the end of the tunnel and become less discouraged by their lack of sleep. They also feel less out of control and resentful of their baby’s demands when they understand how babies operate scientifically and anthropologically as opposed to what we wish babies were like and lamenting the impact they have on our lives no matter how much we love them. I do feel that we could do a better job explaining why and how our bodies and babies are the way they are. We do more telling parents what to do without also giving sound rational for that advice. We tend to assume they are too overwhelmed to understand or care for the scientific reasons. My experience is that they are very open to this information after the first few days of recovering from the delivery. I wish we had a newborn care and development classes for after the baby is born. Thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Susan Ralph IBCLC, RLC, CHE

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