The baby blues aren’t just the domain of birth mothers: fathers, adoptive parents, and non-biological mothers are also at risk.
Postpartum depression has mainly been thought of as a condition only new moms can experience. But according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, women aren’t the only ones who could suffer from it. The research shows that men who become fathers at a young age – typically around the age of 25 – see a 68 percent increase in depression symptoms over the first five years of being dads.
As its name suggests, postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder that becomes apparent after childbirth. Whether it’s your 1st or 5th child, pregnancy and childbirth brings with it a dizzying array of lifestyle changes, hormonal changes, and emotional changes that could leave one susceptible to developing some level of mood change or disorder.
When investigating mood changes in women who have recently delivered a child, the medical community differentiates between the less severe ‘baby blues’ (a short period of sadness, anxiety, and trouble sleeping that alleviates within a couple of weeks) and the more intense and long-lasting PPD. A woman dealing with an extreme loss of appetite, oversleeping or insomnia, withdrawal from friends and family, intense anxiety or anger, and difficulty bonding with her baby (or thoughts of harming herself or her baby) may be dealing with PPD – and understandably so. Our bodies, minds, and lives on a whole undergo an incredible shift during and after pregnancy, including hormonal drops, sleep deprivation, embracing new identities, and relationship or financial stress, to name a few.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in seven U.S. dads are at risk for Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND). But because men are traditionally less likely to ask for help then women, symptoms of male postpartum depression often go unrecognized and fail to be addressed. PPND is not easy to spot, but typical symptoms include irritability, fatigue, lack of sleep and feelings of sadness and worthlessness. These factors can all lead to a diagnosis of PPD, and should not be ignored.
Shame and guilt play dual roles in PPD as well. Among the prevailing symptoms of the condition, shame and guilt can set in when something as “innate” as motherhood doesn’t come as naturally as one would hope. Breastfeeding struggles, a perceived inability to console a crying child, or insecurities over ones’ ability to effectively care for and raise a child all add to the weight that a woman at risk for PPD carries.
Shame and guilt also have a hand in hampering women who feel they may need help. In communities where mental illness is stigmatized and minimized, some women may feel unable to reach out and say “I don’t think I’m OK.” In communities where women are praised for their strength and ability to overcome nearly anything, some women may feel that they’ll be exposing their weaknesses by seeking assistance. Some studies show that racial disparities exist in the diagnosis and treatment of PPD, which adds another crucial factor to the management of the condition. Societal and cultural contexts have such an impact on the pursuit of wellness, and if we aren’t careful, those contexts can impede that journey.
Karen Kleiman, founder and director of the Postpartum Stress Center and author of This Wasn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression, notes in a recent article that the “having a baby will change everything” cliché is very true. While most people are aware that their lives are going to be different after having a baby, Kleiman points out that it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed during the transition. And that dissonance between your expectation of parenthood and the reality of it can often contribute to postpartum depression–no matter your sex.
As with all mental illnesses, the important thing to do if you are worried that you or a loved one has postpartum depression is talk about it and seek help from a licensed health professional. Without treatment, postpartum mood disorders can often worsen and cause long-term consequences, so it’s important to address the problem when it occurs.
Should PPD become a reality for you as it is for 9-16% of postpartum, there are options for help:
• 1-to-1 counseling
• support groups
• antidepressant medication (with options that are safe for breastfeeding moms)
• accessing supportive and helpful friends and family members
• regular exercise
• eating well
• getting a healthy amount of sleep
With the acknowledgment that something isn’t right, a supportive circle, and appropriate medical attention, PPD can be treated, managed, and overcome.