May 18, 2010 -- Although postpartum depression in new moms is well known and well documented, slightly more than 10% of new dads also become depressed before or after their baby’s birth.
The new findings were presented at a news conference sponsored by the American Medical Association and appear in the May 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“This is a rate that is two times higher than what is generally seen in adult men,” says researcher James F. Paulson, PhD, a pediatrician at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. “This is a public health concern and something we need to pay attention to.”
Symptoms of paternal depression include sadness, loss of interest, sleep problems, and low energy. Other red flags may include irritability, withdrawal, and disengagement from the family, he tells WebMD.
The researchers analyzed 43 studies of 28,004 fathers that looked at paternal depression between the first trimester and the first year of the babies’ life. Of these, 10.4% of dads were depressed. By contrast, 4.8% of men in general population are depressed.
The rate of depression among dads peaked three to six months after birth, the study showed.
Prenatal and postpartum depression tend to run in families. Dads were more likely to become depressed before or after baby’s birth if the moms were also afflicted. There was also a correlation between the severity of depression among moms and dads in the study.
“It may be moms are leading the way or dad is leading the way, or this may be due to the child’s temperament or health,” Paulson says. Exactly why dads become depressed is not fully understood, but given the fact that postpartum depression tends to run in families, it may be related to the family dynamic.
There has been a focus on possible hormonal causes because postpartum depression has been primarily seen as a disorder of motherhood. The new findings suggest it is time to cast a wider net when looking for possible causes, Paulson says.
Like maternal depression, paternal depression can have negative effects on the children. Some research shows that children have emotional and behavioral issues when their dads are depressed during the prenatal and postpartum periods, he says. “When fathers are depressed during infancy, their children have somewhat reduced vocabulary by age 2,” he says.
Men Get Baby Blues, Too
Some new mothers get “baby blues” in the first few weeks after they deliver. Baby blues are transient and not serious. They can make women feel weepy, emotional, and anxious and may be linked to hormonal changes after birth.
Dads may also get the baby blues, Paulson says. “I would suspect that there is something like [the baby blues in dads], but it has not been clearly documented,” he says.
Richard M. Glass, MD, deputy editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, tells WebMD that the message is to be alert and aware of the signs of depression in fathers.
“Recognize that there is such a thing as prenatal and postpartum depression in dads, and if you are concerned about what is going on with dad, seek an evaluation," he says.
Glass said that sleep loss could be a factor in postpartum depression in dads, given the fact that depression in dads tended to peak three to six months after birth.
“The first few months are filled with the joy of bringing the infant home, and after a few months things get kind of tough,” he says. “But a lot of people get through without developing issues and others may be more vulnerable.” Certain vulnerability factors within families may tip the scale toward depression among new parents, he says.