Sad Dads: How Can We Help?
All of my friends had kids.
From my mom crew, I have heard everything under the sun about the difficulties of having a baby - lack of sleep, baby brain, feeling exhausted, not wanting to have sex with their partners, even being worried about dropping, hurting, or neglecting their bundle of joy.
With such a huge responsibility, that seems TOTALLY normal! (I worry about my dog choking on dried chicken, how do parents do this every day?) They seem to find comfort in sharing the stories and most especially in seeing that admitting these thoughts did not elicit a horrified response.
This has been such a rewarding experience as I watch my party gals ease into motherhood. MY group has a ton of support (whether they want it or not), but it’s still so hard for them, especially in the first year.
This article isn’t about them though - it’s about their male partners.
I haven’t heard a lot from my dad dudes. Turns out, this is quite common.
Today we are looking at Sad Dads, or Paternal Postpartum Depression.
What is Paternal Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum Depression is defined as a type of “mood disorder associated with childbirth, which can affect both sexes. Symptoms may include extreme sadness, low energy, anxiety, crying episodes, irritability, and changes in sleeping or eating patterns. Onset is typically between one week and one month following childbirth. PPD can also negatively affect the newborn child.” (Wikipedia)
The magical experience of introducing a child into your world can have many effects - overwhelming love, a change in perspective and priorities - but it can also turn your world upside-down.
Many new parents struggle to develop a routine with baby, not to mention the pressure of being responsible for this helpless bundle of joy.
When you add in the Bermuda Triangle of sleep deprivation, neurochemical changes and hormone fluctuations that usually come within the first 3-6 months of being a new parent, it’s a wonder when someone comes out of it without some kind of behavior change!
Are Dads Asking for Help?
You’re not sleeping, you’re not having sex, you’re too tired to even snuggle on the couch. You feel lonely, maybe unattractive, and you have no one to talk to.
Women may be much more likely to have a support network where they can discuss these problems with friends who’re already moms themselves, but men may need just as much support - and not know how to ask for it.
Men are less likely to talk about or seek help for depression and their symptoms can be very different from those of their female counterpart.
Many schools of thought proclaim that men are taught at an early age to suppress their emotions instead of just saying how they feel. Talking about emotions or problems is a no-no (“suck it up dude”) and crying is definitely out of the question. “Stay strong.”
Whether or not this is true, some men may not be as practiced in revealing their feelings and in the wake of the physical, emotional and spiritual change that women go through giving birth, they may feel like they have no right to speak up because they aren’t going through ‘as much.’
This can have a dangerous effect on their mental health.
How is PPPD Affecting New Dads?
A 2010 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10% of the 28,000+ dads surveyed showed signs of depression from the first trimester of their wife’s pregnancy through 6 months after the child was born.
That climbed to 26% during the 3-6 month period after baby arrives, more than 2 times the usual rate of male depression, according to James F. Paulson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, and lead author of the survey, which assessed 43 studies.
This indicates a real issue in new fathers - but it may not be diagnosed as commonly as in moms suffering from PPD. Are there warning signs we can observe?
Factors That Can Lead to PPPD
Fathers with other risk factors, like the excessive stress that comes with being a parent, lack of social supports for parenting, and feeling left out from bonding with the baby as quickly as Mom seems to be may be more likely to develop paternal PPD.
Other factors that may contribute:
- Change in lifestyle
- Difficulty developing attachment to baby
- Lack of a good role model
- Lack of social supports & network
- Changes in marital relationship, feeling excluded
- Maternal postpartum depression
Signs of Paternal Postpartum
While there seem to be common signs, this is still an under-researched topic. It could also be harder to tell, depending on the personality of your man before little Billy was born.
Look for reactions that seem over the top or unusual. Any swings or drastic changes should be considered, especially if they happen over longer periods of time, i.e. more than 2 weeks.
Everyone has a bad day when they lose out on sleep, but consistent changes may indicate a larger issue. Watch out for these physical signs they may need help:
- Irrational anger or panic attacks
- Weight loss or gain
- Fatigue or shortness of breath
While different people will show differing symptoms, here are some of the more common ones to watch for, according to www.postpartummen.com: (While only doctors can diagnose PPPD, the website also offers an assessment you can do privately if you are concerned you may suffer from this issue.)
- Is he isolating himself from friends and family?
- Is he gambling, drinking, taking drugs or engaging in other reckless behaviors?
- Does he have a personal or family history of depression?
- Is he sad, tearful, or uninterested in doing things that he used to enjoy?
- Does he make comments about feeling worthless or suicidal thoughts?
- Does he spend more time than usual at work?
Not only is PPPD harmful to our favorite dads, but it can also affect their new additions. If left unchecked, PPPD can have a negative impact on their family, including increasing emotional and behavioral problems in their own kids and of course, increasing conflicts in their marriage.
How Can We Help?
Just like the camaraderie between moms in the many Mom Groups, literature, social media channels, articles and personal friend groups, talking to others who are going through the same thing can be a huge benefit.
- Look for support networks
- Talk to a therapist
- Encourage your dad to go on outings with other new parents and get to know them
- Stay healthy - get regular exercise, enough sleep (somehow) and the right nutrition
For those of us who want to lend a hand when the people we love are suffering, it can be tough to find a way to support without feeling like we’re adding to their worries or being pushy.
Offering to watch the kids so mom and dad can take a shower on their own time, bringing over dinner or even just heading over to do the laundry or clean the kitchen can make a difference.
Support from their partner, taking paid paternal leave, looking into educational programs, and considering psychiatric care may help new dads cope with the sometimes very stressful experience during the postpartum period.
Pacific Post Partum Support Society is a great resource if you are looking to help new Dads or Moms. (They have some great videos from real dads who have gone through this.)
Whether we’re talking Sad Dads or Moms, if you are worried about some of the new parents in your life, do what you can to help them got the attention they need.
No one needs to feel ashamed - in fact, asking for help and being open to receiving it can be one of the strongest steps someone can take in their lives.
Maybe the best thing we can do is listen without judgment and support them in getting any help they might need to work through this exciting but very challenging time in their lives.
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