Postpartum Depression May Affect New Dads as Well as New Moms
< May 19, 2010 > -- It is fairly well known that new mothers are at increased risk of depression following the birth of a child. New research suggests that about 10 percent of new fathers may also experience the "baby blues."
In addition, the researchers found that if the mother experiences postpartum depression, the father is more apt to be depressed also, putting the baby at a significantly greater risk of developing emotional, behavioral, and developmental problems later on, according to results from the study.
Results of the study were published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Paternal, Maternal Postpartum Depression Associated
Postpartum depression affects between 10 percent and 30 percent of new mothers, according to background information in the study. What has been less well-studied, according to the study authors, is the risk of male depression before and after the birth of a child, as well as the potential consequences to the child.
"Pre- and postnatal depression in men is real. The overall rate of depression in fathers was 10.4 percent in our analysis, about twice what we would expect in the general population of men," says the study's lead author, James Paulson, Ph.D., an associate professor and clinical psychologist at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk.
To get a better handle on the incidence of paternal postnatal depression, Dr. Paulson and his co-author, Sharnail Bazemore, MS, reviewed data from 43 studies including more than 28,000 men.
They found that 10.4 percent of men overall experienced depression either in the pre- or postnatal period. The normal rate of depression for men in the general population is just under 5 percent, according to Dr. Paulson.
The researchers found that rates of depression in men were highest when the baby was between 3 to 6 months old, reaching about 25 percent during this time period.
They also found an association between the risk of maternal and paternal depression. If one parent was depressed, the other was more likely to experience depression.
Importance of New Parents Taking Care of Themselves
"This study brings attention to a very important issue that is sometimes overlooked," says Shona Vas, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "As joyous an occasion as the birth of a new baby is, it's a tremendous transition, and transitions are stressful. And, it's a change that comes with significant impact on your day-to-day functioning, affecting sleep, taking care of yourself, exercising and more."
According to Drs. Paulson and Vas, signs of paternal depression include a sad or depressed mood, a loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, fatigue, sleep problems, a loss of appetite, feelings of hopelessness, and irritability. The problem is, many of these symptoms may be dismissed because people assume that they are due to loss or sleep or changing activities because of the new baby.
Prenatal Education May Help
Drs. Paulson and Vas both say that education prior to the birth of the child could be very helpful. Just letting parents know that they are at higher risk of depression, what they need to look for, and what they can do about it, could help.
"Provide education ahead of time, giving the couple time to talk about options and solutions," says Dr. Vas. "Figure out how you'll be able to take time for yourself, while still being supportive. Negotiate as a couple ahead of time how you'll each take time for yourself," she suggests.
If you recognize any of the signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, a primary care doctor is a good place to start seeking treatment, according to the experts.
However, "men are extraordinarily less likely to seek mental health services [than women]," Dr. Paulson notes. "If we can get a man in to see his family doctor or even a mental health provider, that's a really major step."
In the meantime, men should know that paternal depression is "something that can and should be treated," he says.
"Even if you don't want to seek services for depression for yourself, seek services because your depression is likely to affect your kids," Dr. Paulson explains. "Depression occurs in families; it's not just affecting dad. Depression can't be looked at in isolation. When parents are depressed, children may have a higher risk of behavioral issues, and with things such as learning language or learning to read."
Always consult your physician for more information.
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More Than Just the Baby Blues
The first months of a baby's life should be a time of joy for new parents. But for many new mothers and fathers, these months are marked by sadness, fear, anger or anxiety.
It is common to have short spells of sadness or grouchiness after giving birth, because of the pain, change in hormone levels, and lack of sleep. But sometimes the feelings are extreme and will not go away. These feelings may be signs of postpartum depression.
The "baby blues" can make a new mother feel alone, afraid, and exhausted. These feelings are common and normal. But women who suffer from postpartum depression are so overwhelmed by these feelings that they cannot function normally. They feel hopeless and anxious. They may feel angry at their partner or at their baby. They may begin to wonder whether they are cut out for motherhood.
If this sounds like you, talk with your physician. It is possible that your "baby blues" may be more serious than just the "blues." Warning signs of postpartum depression may include:
It is important to know that although postpartum depression can be serious, it does not mean that you are unfit to be a parent. Pain from giving birth and changes in your body may contribute to the depression. The sudden drop in hormones and lack of sleep may also be factors.
Postpartum depression can be treated. The sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner you can begin to enjoy the new member of your family. But you must get professional help to be diagnosed and treated.
It is important to note that most women who experience the "baby blues," postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and/or postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder have never experienced these types of symptoms before, especially with such intensity. In any case, it is important for women to seek proper treatment early - not only to ensure that the newborn remains safe and properly cared for, but also so that the mother can resolve these symptoms and experience all the joys of motherhood.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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