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 population.
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," Paulson says.
"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Women are often sad or withdrawn, while men may become irritable, aggressive, and even hostile, he says.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 postpartum depression.
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.
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