Dads Get Postpartum Depression, Too
Study Shows 10% of Dads Suffer Depression After Child's Birth
Aug. 7, 2006 -- After years studying postpartum depressiondepression in new moms, a recent study suggests that new dads can get depressed too.
About 14% of mothers and 10% of fathers suffer from moderate or severe postpartum depression, according to the study in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics. More incapacitating than the "baby blues," postpartum depression is a marked by severe sadness or emptiness, withdrawal from family and friends, a strong sense of failure, and even thoughts of suicide. These emotions can begin two or three weeks after birth and can last up to a year or longer if untreated.
"Postpartum depression in fathers was strikingly high and more than twice as common than in the general adult male population in the U.S.," write researchers including James F. Paulson, PhD, of the Center for Pediatric Research at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va. As a result, pediatricians must make a greater effort to screen moms and dads for postpartum depression, they say.
Postpartum Depression Does Not Discriminate
Researchers reviewed data on more than 5,000 two-parent families with children aged 9 months and found that with both parents depressed, babies were less likely to be put to bed lying on their back, ever to be breastfed, and more likely to have been put to sleep with a bottle.
Pediatricians recommend that babies be put to sleep on their backs to prevent sudden infant death syndrome.
Depressed mothers were about 1.5 times less likely to engage in preventive health behaviors such as breastfeedingbreastfeeding and placing a child on his or her back to sleep, and/or more likely to put their babies to bed with a bottle. They were less likely to read to their babies, tell stories, or sing songs if depressed.
Depressed fathers were less likely to sing to or play outside with their child if both parents were depressed, the study showed.
"Our results suggest that where day-to-day interactions are concerned, depressed mothers and fathers engage in less positive interaction with their children, with a particular reduction in the degree of enrichment interactions, including reading, telling stories, and singing songs," the researchers conclude.
Paulson tells WebMD that as of now, there is no information on how depression is affecting a father's preventive health behaviors. "We can't look at dad's breastfeeding, that's silly," he tells WebMD. And "we don't have data on whether they are putting their babies to sleep with bottles," he says.
But the finding that depressed dads don't interact with their children is "really a critical thing and [interaction] is needed for children to develop cognitively and emotionally in a normal way," he says.
Know the Signs
While women often show signs of frank sadness when they are depressed, men may be more likely to be irritable, aggressive, and sometimes hostile when depressed, he says.