The transformational nature of postpartum is not limited to the experience of the mother. Even though it is especially unique to her, the entire family feels its aftershocks – including dads and partners.
The potential for them to experience similar mood disorders and depression is extremely high. For professionals to ignore or make light of this would be an injustice to the women and families we serve.
Peripartum depression in dads must continue to be addressed, researched, recognized, and supported. We’re here in honor of Father’s Day to break down some of the basics behind this growing reality and discuss how we can join together to provide higher levels of support.
In this episode, I am sharing:
The experience of dads and partners during postpartum
Defining the difference between peripartum vs postpartum
1 out of every 10 dads will experience peripartum depression
Over 50% of men who have a partner with depression will also experience it themselves
Unique causes and symptoms for moms vs dads
Cognitive, emotional, and social impact on children
The heavy emotional and physical toll of postpartum
Coming together to provide better support
Welcome to the Postpartum University podcast, where we support you and your provider in understanding the science, the art, and the sacredness of healing after birth. I’m Maranda Bower, your host, your postpartum nutrition specialist, and homesteading mom with four wild kids. It’s time to get you the holistic, whole body healing that works.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Postpartum University podcast. And today, we are going to talk about dads because it is Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to everyone who is listening, and hopefully, you are able to celebrate and have fun on this day if dad is near and dear to you.
So let’s talk about dads with postpartum depression. This is a hot topic, and it’s one that definitely deserves a lot of attention. I’m often asked, “What about dads and partners? Don’t they experience these intense changes in the postpartum period too? And so, is it true that they also have postpartum depression or they can develop postpartum depression and/or anxiety as well?” And the answer is yes, but it is not postpartum depression. Instead, we call it peripartum depression or peripartum mood disorders if we are going to include the whole gamut of mental health symptoms outside of depression.
And the reason why we want to make sure that we are using its proper name is because the postpartum and prenatal period specifically refers to the mother only, only to the person who is birthing the children because they have a very unique blend of physical, mental, emotional, and hormonal changes that are hers and hers alone. So, by referring to a partner’s depression as postpartum depression, we really are taking away from her experience or equating their experience with something a little different. That’s not exactly theirs. So we refer to dad’s depression with a unique name, a different name, to highlight the specific challenges of fathers or partners in the postpartum period.
And I will also say that when you are looking up scientific studies or research behind peripartum depression, that you will also sometimes hear it referred to as paternal postpartum depression. So that is a search term that you can absolutely use if you are looking at this. But what we’re finding more and more in the scientific communities is that we’re using this term peripartum depression. And so, if you are speaking about dads and postpartum, or if you feel like this might be something that’s related to your partner and what they are going through, then definitely listen in to this.
So, does it exist? Heck, yes, it does. It absolutely does. And it’s a really big deal too. So, for women, it’s about one in seven women have postpartum depression. And I am learning, and we’re all learning, that this statistic is actually growing quite frequently. And we are seeing that that number is likely more closely aligned with one in three women experiencing postpartum depression. For dads, that number is one in 10. One in 10 new dads will experience symptoms of peripartum depression.
Over 50% of men who have a partner with depression will also have depression themselves. And it presents very, very differently than what maternal depression would look like. And so again, another reason why we wanna make sure that we’re differentiating between the two ’cause the causes and the symptoms are very unique in of themselves. And we’ll talk about that here in a second. But oftentimes what we see is that it’s a lot more gradual than postpartum depression. It comes on a little bit more slowly and it doesn’t always present in the way that postpartum depression does. And we also know that it can happen before postpartum. It can happen in pregnancy. This is very common too. It’s less understood and less studied. As a matter of fact, I will tell you that there is no official set of diagnostic criteria for peripartum depression.
This is brand new, y’all. This is not a conversation that a lot of people are having or studying, for that matter. It’s new. It’s not new to exist. It’s new to be studied. And so, it’s not even something that is in the diagnostic manual, the DSM-5. It’s not something that most people know about, let alone are trained about. And so, I really wanna have this conversation. It’s so incredibly important.
So, let’s talk a little bit about the warning signs for peripartum depression. What does this look like? So, some of the signs for depression and anxiety are anger or sudden outbursts, violent behavior. And this is very, very interesting because, again, it presents very differently than women, but anger and sudden outbursts and this violent behavior is a really high indicator of peripartum depression. There were several studies that were done on these tendencies in men who have depression in general. And there were a couple of who related this to postpartum, the postpartum period. Over 25% of women reported that they experienced violence in their partner who was diagnosed with peripartum depression. And that nearly 70% of that was a first-time violent occurrence. So, take that in for a second. If you are having a partner who is all of a sudden very angry, having these violent tendencies, and that was not something that you have ever experienced before, there could be a chance that this is peripartum depression and the way it presents for them.
There’s also an increased risk-taking behavior or impulsivity, the desire to turn to substance abuse, prescription drugs, alcohol, just being super irritable, low motivation, even physical symptoms, headaches, stomach aches, digestive issues, poor concentration, right? Suicidal thoughts, of course. And then being really withdrawn from the relationship as a whole. We know that marital satisfaction goes down significantly after having a baby. It is no joke that having a baby takes a toll on a relationship. When we are lacking time to ourselves, intimacy changes, especially with the physical changes that take place in a mother after the birth of a baby, the hormonal changes that take place. Her needing to meet the needs of a baby and dad feeling like he’s taking second seat. These are all very typical responses and feelings in the months after having a baby. And so, we can see that often with dads as well. And you might even see that maybe he’s working a lot less or maybe he’s working a lot more and not coming home as often after a day’s work because peripartum depression may be a factor for him.
Wondering what your postpartum symptoms are trying to tell you. Postpartum depression, anxiety, depletion, and autoimmune issues have become a new normal. Take the most comprehensive postpartum assessment to discover what your symptoms are telling you and, even more, what you can do to fix it for good. I want to stress the importance of really looking into this for dads. Again, we need to have these conversations. We need to speak to our providers. We need to have these conversations with our partners and dads as well because this might be something that they are going through that they don’t fully understand themselves. It’s not something we talk about. It’s not something that’s normalized. It feels really daunting. It feels really difficult and it feels really shameful. And we want to support them in all of the ways. And so, if this is something that you are looking at as a potential for maybe your kid’s father or maybe somebody that you know, definitely start having these conversations because it’s not just the moms who are greatly impacted by depression.
Dads are too. And when a mother or a father is experiencing depression and or anxiety, it impacts the entire family, everyone. And we actually have a lot of studies that show that when both parents in a relationship are experiencing depression, it affects the cognitive, emotional, and social development and attachment of a baby and child significantly. It will actually hinder the brain growth and it changes the biological and behavioral regulatory patterns, like eating and sleeping and communicating. It changes all of that within our children. And when we know that a dad is depressed, those violent tendencies are, we know that dads are more likely to spank children. There’s actual clinical scientific studies that show an increase in parental spanking from the father, along with several other things. The relationship with the children involved are greatly impacted as well as the marriage overall. So this is not a joke, it’s not something to take lightly, just as maternal depression is not something to take lightly. It is a really big deal. And we wanna have these conversations and we wanna talk about them and we want to help the parents who are involved.
Really quickly, let’s kind of just talk a little bit about some of the factors that might play a role in dad developing perinatal depression and or anxiety. Hormones is a really big factor too. And it’s not just for mothers who’ve gone through giving birth, but also for fathers, particularly in regard to testosterone. Testosterone is known to drop after a mom has a baby and dad has a baby. And that large level of oxytocin flowing through, not just impacts mother, but also the partner, and that helps in declining testosterone as well. And so oftentimes that feeling of, you know, your hormones changing can greatly impact the role of peripartum depression. If a mom is depressed, over again, over half of men with depression will have a partner who is also depressed as well. So when mom is depressed, there is a significantly higher chance that dad is going to be depressed too. The feelings of being disconnected from mom and baby, dad taking a second seat or not feeling like he’s bonding with the baby as much as mom is or that he doesn’t understand the baby’s cues or that he is not good enough as a parent, just the same as mom would experience it. But from a father’s perspective, it can be, it can feel really daunting. They can feel like they’re living on the outside. And that can easily contribute to these additional feelings and onset of depression and anxiety.
Of course, personal family history, and then the overall adjustment of parenthood, though what it requires, the coping skills that are necessary, the feelings of overwhelm, feelings of guilt, am I doing enough at looking at your own relationship with your parents? And then we have sleep deprivation, which affects everyone. And we have nutrition issues as well. We are not eating well enough, we’re not sleeping well enough, we’re not connecting well enough. We have a different set of hormonal adjustments that take place and a high association with moms being depressed and dads. So that basically is not an extensive list, but it’s a very big summary of some risk factors that can play a role in peripartum depression.
If you feel that this is something that is a part of your life, then I highly suggest you reach out for support. Find a mental health therapist or a counselor who’s trained in at least maternal mental health. If you find someone who’s trained in maternal mental health, you are more likely to find someone who is trained in peripartum mental health. We are again seeing the rise of this and we know that this is occurring and we are seeing more and more trainings. And so obviously, there’s not that much, but there is still a great deal of support that can be available, especially from someone who’s trained in the area. So seek out support, have these conversations know that they are normal, they happen, but just because they are normal and your normal doesn’t mean it’s okay. There are ways in which we can support each other and healing our bodies deeply, even after months and years after having a baby. So I hope this was helpful for you. I wanted to share this information as best I can with as little knowledge and scientific evidence that we possibly have on this topic, and just bring it out into the world and what better than to do so on Father’s Day. Hope you all enjoy would love to continue this conversation via social media, especially if you have additional resources, if you have training materials that you are familiar with, and any type of resources whatsoever, particularly for families and professionals who serve them. Please please reach out, share those, we can gather an extensive list and start really having more of these conversations so that we can start working on preventative care and support overall.
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