May 6, 2008 (Washington) -- Postpartum depression hits new dads, too.
Moreover, male postpartum depression may have more negative effects on some
aspects of a child's development than its female counterpart, says James F.
Paulson, PhD, of the Center for Pediatric Research at the Eastern Virginia
Medical School in Norfolk, Va.
Paulson and colleagues reviewed data on more than 5,000 two-parent families
with children aged 9 months.
They found that one in 10 new dads met standard criteria for moderate to
severe postpartum depression.
That's a "striking increase" from the 3% to 5% of men in the general
population that have depression, Paulson tells WebMD.
The research, presented here at the annual meeting of the American
Psychiatric Association (APA), also showed that the 14% of new moms have
postpartum depression. That compares to 7% to 10% of women in the general
Depressed Parents Less Likely to Read to Their Kids
The researchers looked to see whether the parents' depression affected their
interaction with their children.
"What we found," Paulson says, "is that both moms and dads who were
depressed were significantly less likely to engage in interactions such as
reading, telling stories, and singing songs to their infants."
But only the dads' behavior significantly affected their child's development
at 24 months -- "specifically in terms of how many words the child used,"
"If their dads were depressed and didn't read to them, the infants had a
much smaller vocabulary," he says.
There was no link between the baby-mom interactions and the child's command
of words at 2 years.
Not Just Baby Blues
Postpartum depression isn't just the "baby blues." It's severe depression
marked by feelings of 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.
Paulson says that research suggests that signs and symptoms of postpartum
depression differ between the sexes.
Women are often sad or withdrawn, while men may become irritable,
aggressive, and even hostile, he says. But there are no hard rules.
The findings don't surprise experts who gathered for Paulson's talk. Elisabeth
Kunkel, MD, of Jefferson University in Philadelphia, says, "Postpartum
depression in men is a real entity."
She tells WebMD that many men are reluctant to see help "as they are
supposed to be providing the support for the new baby and the new mom."
APA President-elect Nada Stotland, MD, of Rush Medical Center in Chicago,
says, "The life changes for a new dad are enormous. Just thinking about the
costs of raising the kid to 21, maybe for life, can be terrifying. And all the
unspoken fears: Will my wife still be as interested in me? Will my baby be as
cute as my brother's baby?"
Stotland says that first-time new dads are at greatest risk for developing
So what should a new dad do? Recognize that the symptoms can interfere with
not only your own, but also your child's health, the experts say. Don't dismiss
lingering symptoms; instead, go talk to a doctor, counselor, or other health
care professional for diagnosis and treatment.