Your baby is crying, and nothing seems to soothe him. You look to your partner, expecting a helping hand, but he seems checked out. Is he just being selfish, or is it something more?
We know that postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious and common risk for new moms, but we seldom think about how parenthood affects dads. Before you stew in your frustrations with your partner (believe me, I’ve been there), take a minute to consider that he might be struggling with feelings of depression.
Dr. Ella Speichinger, OB/GYN, says that men show signs of PPD later than most women — on average, about two to six months after the baby is born — so there’s a chance your partner isn’t just being difficult.
Why do men get PPD?
Women most often get postpartum depression because of hormone changes after pregnancy. Your male partner doesn’t have the same excuse, so why would he be at risk? He didn’t exactly build a human being in his body for nine months. But I digress…
There are a few factors to consider. When men spend a lot of time with a baby, their testosterone level drops. That can in turn alter brain chemistry, lowering serotonin levels and increasing the risk of clinical depression. Men who are more empathetic are at an even greater risk. If they feel unattached to their new baby, that can cause pain because of how much they want to build a strong bond with their child.
If the man has a history of depression, his risk for developing postpartum depression increases. There’s also a higher chance of your partner developing PPD if you’re dealing with PPD yourself. It can be difficult for him to see you struggling, making him feel more helpless.
Additionally, life during a pandemic can throw major curveballs into anyone’s game. Missing out on some major milestones of your pregnancy – like ultrasounds and doctor’s appointments — could leave him feeling left out. Now that the baby is here, things are still different than what either of you imagined. You might be isolated from family and friends and in constant fear over your new baby’s health. This would take a toll on anyone’s mental health, and it’s exacerbated when you’re not getting enough sleep.
Signs your partner could be depressed.
The signs of PPD in men are the same as those in women. Some key signs of depression are:
- Lack of attachment to child.
- Lack of sleep or excessive sleep.
- Mood swings.
- Loss of appetite.
- Obsessive thoughts.
- Sudden changes in weight — gaining or losing weight without much effort.
- Unable to find joy in life — no longer enjoys activities he used to.
- Unable to look forward to the future.
- Increased sadness.
- Thoughts of harm or suicide — saying their family is better off without them.
What should you do?
It can seem easy to write off, especially when you’re both feeling the stress of adding a child to your family, but if your partner is consistently frustrated or acting different, it may be worth a conversation. If you’re a new mom, you’re probably familiar with the depression screening taken at each doctor’s visit — it’s called the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) or the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EDPS). The questions are the same for men and women, so encourage your partner to talk to their doctor and get screened as well. If left unchecked, postpartum depression can last for several years and have negative effects on your partner as well as your child.
If you haven’t had your baby yet, take parenting classes together. Having a clear understanding of what to expect before your bundle of joy arrives will help set you both up for success. Encourage your partner to take leave from work once the baby arrives. It’s important for you both to have time to bond with your baby and adjust to the new family dynamic. If you suspect that your partner has postpartum depression, talk to him about it. Create an open dialogue and be supportive. Make sure that each of you get some time to do things you enjoy, split responsibilities and get as much sleep as possible. Have him schedule a therapy appointment to get an outside perspective, and if necessary, his doctor might prescribe medication.