June 3, 2010

By David Caren Saturday June 5th, 2010



THE birth of a new baby is a major landmark event in any man’s life; however, the reality of the situation can be somewhat different. The change to your lifestyle together with the constant demands of a newborn can cause immense stress on the dad, with dad often feeling side-lined with the attention very much focused on their partner and new baby. Although men have nine months to prepare, they may still not feel that the situation is real until they are actually holding the baby in their arms for the first time.

There is a widespread belief that antenatal and postnatal depression is only experienced by women; however, research and anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. Postnatal depression in women is a widely recognised condition, but a lesser-known condition is male postnatal depression. The main reason that this condition is lesser known is that men often find it difficult to talk about it. Some men do not realise that they are actually suffering from the condition.

While postnatal depression in mothers first came to light in the 1950s, it was not until very recently that medical professionals started applying the same diagnosis to fathers.

The Eastern Virginia Medical School found that many new fathers experience postnatal depression, yet most cases go undetected and untreated, according to the team behind the research. The findings have been based on 43 studies involving 28,004 parents from 16 different countries including the UK and the US, and found that new fathers were generally happiest in the early weeks after the birth of their baby, with depression kicking in after three to six months, and that at least 10% and up to 25% had postnatal depression.

They called for doctors to watch out for symptoms of postnatal depression in men as much as in women and even suggested that new parents could be offered treatment as a couple. Other studies have suggested that the figure may be as high as one in three men experiencing depression during the antenatal and postnatal period.

Although the symptoms are identical, male and female PND do differ slightly. In a female, PND is hormonal and psychological, while the male version surrounds the emotions. For men, it is more about the change of identity. Please note that I am not for one minute undermining the role women play in parenthood – being pregnant, going through labour, well no man could handle the ordeal – but women to be fair, are better equipped to adapt to change, especially when it pertains to parenting matters.

The new addition to the family can be stressful, especially if the dad has to work during the day and cope with the child at night. It may sometimes feel like a man has a second job, going from one working environment to another. Over-tiredness can easily be written off as an effect of sleepless nights, but if this is accompanied by a change in eating pattern, insomnia or unexplainable irritation, male PND could be setting in. Other symptoms include loss of libido, feelings of being overwhelmed, isolation and disconnection from partner, friends or family, increased hours of work as a part of the withdrawal, use of drugs or alcohol. Some fathers feel disappointed by their initial experience of fatherhood, believing that they have failed in their new role, letting themselves, their children or partners down. A dad whose partner is suffering from PND is at greater risk of developing depression in the postnatal period.

Men by nature do not talk about their feelings. Today’s society still dictates that men hide their emotions, quite often, men bottle things up in the hope that they will go away in time. One of the biggest problems for men when it comes to male postnatal depression is a lack of support. There are numerous support groups and much help available for women, but there is practically nowhere for fathers to turn. In addition, men have historically been reluctant to talk about this type of depression, and statistics regarding male postnatal depression have only recently highlighted the problem.

Studies have also found that postnatal depression in new fathers can have long-term psychological consequences for their children. The influence of fathers during early childhood has probably been underestimated in the past. However, these findings indicate that postnatal depression in fathers has a ‘specific and persisting impact’ on children’s early behavioural and emotional development. The babies of depressed men are twice as likely to suffer from behavioural problems, including hyperactivity, as they grew older, as opposed to those whose fathers are not depressed.

It is also worth noting that the cause of male PND could lie in the poor preparation for fatherhood. A lot of men in other countries today benefit from Paternity Leave, usually a two-week period that allows them to take paid leave from work to spend time with the new family. However, Ireland is still one of the very few countries that do not provide Statutory Paternity leave!

If you are expecting a baby then take solace in knowing that male PND is a common infliction, one that is perfectly normal and that you should feel no shame in feeling overwhelmed in the first six months of baby’s arrival.

If you are a new dad, bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation, reading this article and you are harbouring any of the symptoms mentioned above then it is vital that you talk to your partner about your feelings, new parenthood is all about negotiation and coming up with solutions as a couple.

Talking to people you know and trust who have survived the trials of early parenthood can also help, and don’t be afraid to get relatives and friends involved in babysitting to give you both a break. You may also wish to consider talking with your public health nurse or family GP for further advice.