Depression Symptoms in Postpartum Dads

Depression symptoms in postpartum dads cause distress in new families.  There are many signs of depression during the postpartum period.

 

Sleep Deprivation

 

Newborns do not sleep (usually) so count yourself lucky if your baby sleeps through the night.  New dads experience broken-up sleep due to tending to their baby’s nighttime needs.

 

Sleep disruption can worsen symptoms of depression.  Sleep is vital to humans.  We need our sleep in order to heal our bodies, consolidate learning, and for mood regulation.

 

New dads may sleep too much or too little.  The lack of sleep causes other symptoms of depression such as irritability, low energy, and difficulty concentrating.

 

My first baby did not sleep well for the first two years of her life.  I noticed I could barely concentrate when reading a book and I often fell asleep during the day at the drop of a hat.  

 

I fell asleep in a pool noodle float one time!  I napped every day and my husband did mornings until I was able to get sufficient sleep.

 

Most doctors will prescribe medication to help with sleep and that alone can ward off depression in new dads.

 

 

Listlessness/Disinterest in the baby

 

New dads with symptoms of depression may interact with their babies less.  They seem in a daze and disconnected from their babies.

 

They may say they feel “numb.”

 

 

Family members may notice them going through the motions of parenting but no moments of joy or intimacy with the baby.

 

*If you have concerns about the safety of your baby with dad, you need to get dad help from a trained mental health professional asap.

 

Appetite Changes

 

New dads with depression symptoms may eat too little or too much.  Dads are more likely to drink too much to combat symptoms of depression.

 

Anhedonia

 

Anhedonia means a loss of pleasure in things that once brought you enjoyment. For instance, a new dad that loved building model airplanes before the baby arrived may not want to even see a new kit.

 

Disturbing Thoughts

 

Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby are signs of depression.  If a new dad is not disturbed by these thoughts that may indicate Postpartum Psychosis and he needs to be seen immediately.  Dads may also envision hurting their babies, again this is an emergency and needs to be evaluated by a psychiatrist.

 

Postpartum Psychosis is a mental health emergency.

 

New dads that are distressed by these type of thoughts may feel guilty for having them.  They may worry that if they share them with an outsider Child Protective Services (CPS) may be alerted and their baby will be taken away from them.

 

I see suicidal thoughts as an expression of depression.  I take them seriously but I would never act on them (calling CPS) without further investigation.  

 

If your partner shared these kinds of thoughts with you it is a sign he needs more support.  You need to encourage him to contact a mental health professional to provide that support for her new family.

 

Conclusion

I have highlighted common depression symptoms in postpartum dads.  Dads with partners that have been diagnosed with a mood disorder such as Bipolar Disorder I are more likely to experience postpartum depression symptoms.

Help is out there and getting help is one of the best decisions you can make for your new family.

Depression Treatment Postpartum Dads

Symptoms of depression show up in 10-20% of pregnant and postpartum moms.  Fathers can also experience depressive symptoms especially if their partners are struggling with a mood disorder.

 

 

How is depression treated in postpartum dads?  I will start with psychotherapy interventions and then end with pharmacological treatment.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular treatment of depression by therapists.  The theory says that when encountering stress we have negative thoughts that lead to emotions and then behaviors.

 

For example, a pregnant mom may read an article about birth defects and drinking caffeine.  She may have the following thoughts:  “my baby will have a birth defect because I drank coffee during pregnancy, I’m a bad mom, I have hurt my baby.”

 

These negative thoughts result in feelings of fear, shame, sadness, and disappointment.  The mom may stop taking care of herself due to believing she has already done damage to her baby.

 

I help postpartum dads identify these negative thoughts and test their validity.  I use Socratic questioning to challenge these thoughts.  

 

Dads get good at identifying these thoughts, investigating their truthfulness, and ultimately modifying these thoughts.  They feel relief, instead of dread and shame.  They choose to continue to engage in self-care.

 

Attachment Theory is also a popular intervention for depression.  Attachment Theory states that we grow up with a kind of attachment (insecure (avoidant/anxious), secure, or disorganized) to our primary caregivers.

 

If the attachment is secure we can leave our caregivers, explore the world, and return to a “secure base” when we feel overwhelmed.  

 

If we have an insecure attachment to our primary caregivers, we may feel clingy with loved ones when separated or avoid getting close to loved ones.  We have learned we do not have a secure base to return to when out in the world.

 

I work to develop an earned secure attachment with my perinatal clients.  Dads can feel like they have a safe place to return when they feel stressed.

 

Dads feel that I am there for them, I am interested in their lives, and I respond in a way that feels soothing.  They can share dark thoughts or feelings without fear of judgment, dismissal, or jumping to problem-solving instead of being there with them.

 

Dads feel a sense of security and are better able to handle life’s ups and downs.  Their depressive symptoms may lessen during treatment.

 

There are pharmacological treatments postpartum dads.   Anti-depressants such as SSRIs  (Paxil) do come with side effects such as erectile dysfunction so be sure to weigh the pros and cons before starting treatment.

Doctors may prescribe an anti-depressant to help improve depressive symptoms.  Medications may be discontinued if symptoms go into remission.

 

Sleep is a huge factor in depression.  If dads are not sleeping well symptoms may be exacerbated.  Doctors may prescribe sleep aids such as Vitamin B6, melatonin, or an anti-depressant with sedating side effects.

 

 

Dads are so important to child raising and a sad dad does have a detrimental effect on the family.  Depression can be treated and improved.