Many moms have been there: having a baby seems like such an exhilarating experience, and then the blues hit. On some days just the wrong sound or an oddly worded statement can open the floodgates to tears. In some women, the baby blues progress into something more severe— postpartum depression. A condition caused by fluctuating hormone levels post-delivery, postpartum depression can hit hard with feelings of sadness and even suicidal thoughts for several weeks. Thoughts of harming themselves, or the child, are not uncommon.
Post-partum Depression In Fathers:
Predominantly recognized as a condition affecting mothers, there is now reason to believe that fathers too are susceptible to post-partum depression. Across animal studies, some animals co-parent i.e., both, the male and female parent look after the newborn. Researchers find that upon the birth of the offspring, the male animal shows a marked dip in testosterone levels.
The Biology Behind Postpartum Depression In New Dads:
Testosterone is an androgen or male hormone. It regulates everything from sex drive to body hair in men. Men experience the feelings they do as a result of androgen hormones.
When a child is born to animals that co-parent, it is essential for the offspring’s survival that the male parent not move on to other mates, abandoning his family. Doing so in a wild setting can even cause the offspring to die. Evolution tells us that survival and propagation are the primary objectives of all living beings. Thus, falling testosterone levels ensure that the new offspring survives and is looked after well.
The Testosterone Dip And Postpartum Depression:
Human lifestyle has changed much faster than evolution can keep up. We progressed from hunter-gatherers to city dwellers extremely rapidly from a biological standpoint. As a result, our hormones have not kept pace. Men especially are not used to fluctuating hormone levels unlike women, whose menstrual cycle brings changes every month.
When the child is born, and the father begins to bond with it, their testosterone levels fall, sometimes setting them up for depression. Unfortunately, men who do speak up may often be dismissed as there is no logical explanation for what is happening. Typically, new dads experience post-partum depression in the 3 to 6-month window after having a baby.
New Dad Blues Are Not That Common:
Postpartum depression, however, is not very common in men. Only 10% of fathers experience it. Also, the chances of post-partum depression can vary from one birth to another. Men who have high testosterone levels before the birth tend to have a lower risk of developing postppartum blues.
If you are a new dad experiencing feelings of fatigue and frustration, don’t be afraid to seek help.
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- Paulson, James F., and Sharnail D. Bazemore. “Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis.” Jama303, no. 19 (2010): 1961-1969.
- Saxbe, Darby E., Christine Dunkel Schetter, Clarissa D. Simon, Emma K. Adam, and Madeleine U. Shalowitz. “High paternal testosterone may protect against postpartum depressive symptoms in fathers, but confer risk to mothers and children.” Hormones and behavior95 (2017): 103-112.