Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 in Articles, Blog | 0 comments

Postpartum & Dads

Women are most vulnerable to mood disorders during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Postpartum depression (ppd) is one of six postpartum mood disorders and is the most common, affecting about 15 percent of mothers around the world.  The primary cause for ppd is thought to be the huge hormonal drop after the baby is delivered.  This hormone shift then affects the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). There are also psychosocial factors such as moving, illness, poor partner support, financial hardship, and social isolation that will negatively affect the woman’s emotional state.  Common symptoms are excessive worry, anger, feelings of guilt, sadness, hopelessness, sleep problems, uneasiness around the baby, poor concentration, loss of pleasure, decreased sex drive, and changes in appetite. 


There are warning signs for which professionals, family, and friends can watch.  She may need help if she exhibits some of these behaviors: misses her doctor appointments, worries excessively about her health or the health of the baby, looks unusually tired, requires a support person to accompany her to appointments, loses or gains a lot of weight, has physical complaints without any apparent cause, has poor milk production, evades questions about herself, cries easily, shows discomfort being with her baby, is not willing to let another person care for the baby, loses her appetite, cannot sleep at night when her baby is sleeping, and expresses concern that her baby does not like her. Warning signs in the baby include excessive weight gain or loss, delayed cognitive or language development, decreased responsiveness to the mother, and breastfeeding problems.


There are many important reasons why a new mother with ppd should receive help as soon as possible.  If she remains untreated, there is an increased risk of her child(ren) developing psychiatric disturbances. There is a potential for child abuse or neglect, an increased risk for the woman to develop chronic depression or relapse, and there is a negative impact on the marriage and on all the family relationships.


The recovery plan should include support (both personal and professional), specific nutrition which fights depression, a few hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep (breastfeeding moms can do this too), medication if necessary, and regular breaks for herself. If her depression is so severe that she cannot exercise, just going outside, standing up straight, breathing deeply and getting some sunshine can help her. Since each woman’s circumstances and symptoms differ, it is important for each to receive an individual assessment and wellness plan.  For instance, one may need more uninterrupted sleep at night and breaks during the day, and another may require more social support and thyroid balancing. 


Although not caused, of course, by reproductive hormones, new fathers also experience depression at the rate of at least 10 percent.  Their symptoms differ from the fluctuating moods that moms with ppd exhibit.  Fathers seem to have more tension and short-temperedness as their main symptoms, accompanied with some fear, anger, frustration, and feelings of helplessness.  Dads with postpartum depression are often concerned about their partners, disrupted family life, and finances.  They typically have increased expectations for themselves and confusion about their new role. 


The strongest predictor of whether a new dad will become depressed postpartum is the presence of ppd in the mother.  A father whose partner has ppd has between a 24 and 50 percent risk of developing depression after the baby is born.  The onset of his ppd is usually later then the onset of ppd in the mother.  In Chapter 16 of Postpartum Depression For Dummies I discuss why partners, if they aren’t receiving adequate help themselves, sometimes become depressed as the moms recover.


When fathers suffer from depression after the baby is born, their baby boys are negatively affected the most.  These boys have been found to have twice as many behavioral problems in their early years as other children without depressed fathers. 


Dads contact me directly for help through or they go to for further information.  What’s most important for kids is that both the mom and the dad are healthy and happy.


Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D. ©

Clinical Psychologist

Author, Postpartum Depression For Dummies

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