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  • Ana Sofia Valdes

Daddy Blues?

Lately, there has been a lot more focus on mental health and the normalization of mental diseases and treatment. "Postpartum Depression" is something we hear more and more often, and we are taught to be on the lookout for warning signs that could alert us that we or someone around us could be going through this. But every single time I have heard or read about it or about baby blues for that matter, we assume that this just happens to mom. But what about dad? After birth, we as a society take care of the newborn in the first place, the newborn in the second place, and if we are lucky of mom in third place, but who takes care of dad?

Yes, men can suffer from postpartum depression or baby blues just as much as women do. According to Dan Singley, of the Center for Men's Excellence in San Diego, quoted in an article cited in an article for HealthDay, "Recent research has shown that roughly 10 percent of new dads experience postpartum depression, and up to 18 percent have some type of anxiety disorder," [1]

It happens not only during birth but from the start of the pregnancy. Birth classes often address only mom and dad, or partner is just a support figure in the background; there is no baby shower for men, and all wellness checks and attention is on her and the growing bump. The reality is that although they don't deal with all physiological changes and pains in pregnancy and birth, almost all the other changes are happening to them too. Although this is still unexplained, there is even evidence to the fact that men experience variations in testosterone levels during pregnancy and after birth.[2]

All of the above, added to the effects sleep deprivation has on the body, plus the psychological pressure of being a provider, guilt from going to work, fear of taking care of the newborn and facing a new dynamic in their relationship with their partner and their day-to-day life can be too much to handle. Furthermore, men are usually less open about their feelings and are less likely to accept them and seek help. That added to the sense of responsibility for taking care of mom, and the lack of information on this issue can leave dad feeling even more isolated and needing to minimize what they are going through.

From my experience, dads also have a more challenging time connecting to the newborn. There is pressure for both genders to be entirely in love with their baby the second they are born. NEWSFLASH! This doesn't necessarily happen, not for mom, not for dad. The expectations are enormous, and guilt and disappointment will follow if those expectations are not met. We need to normalize that sometimes it takes time and a lot of bonding to feel the love that you know you have for your baby. It takes time to process what is happening to you and that this little thing looking at you and depending 100% on you is yours.

I have also seen, time and time again, men afraid of their newborn, of not knowing how to hold him or of hurting him while doing so. Mom enjoys cuddling with a tiny baby, while dad can't wait for the baby to get a bit bigger and start interacting. Both stages have beauty, and you can prefer one or the other, but it shouldn't be fear what stops you from enjoying either.

Moms can also be very possessive of their baby in a way that doesn't allow dad to get close. It is normal at the beginning to want to hold them at all times and if you are breastfeeding chances are you will be holding them a lot, but it is so so so important to make room for dad and actively seek moments for them. It is our nature to want to do things ourselves and when we see that dad is having trouble changing the diaper and the baby is crying, and you start leaking, of course you want to jump and do it yourself, but you need to let them be. Let them get used to each other, so they can figure out their relationship.

At the beginning, I remember Marco wanting to do "kangaroo dad" with Max, but he didn't know how to handle him so, Marco would get into position on the couch or bed and I would place Maximilian on him already asleep. Marco would not move an inch until he would wake up, and I took him. With time, they didn't need me anymore and for a lot of things like bathing for instance, it turned out that the "big hands on a tiny baby" is not something to fear but an asset.

All this can be added factors to an already high pressure situation. But it is not only the newborn stage that we should be worried about. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that depression in men can start as of the first trimester but that the number of cases increases three to six months after birth, and it can develop much later than that.[3]

It is also important to mention that more often than not, the partner of a woman with postpartum depression will have it as well and vice versa. Because of this, it is so essential for everyone else around them to be on the lookout. Any prolonged change in behavior should be worrying, but the main signs to look out for are:

1. Anger, irritability, or aggression.

2. Loss of interest in favorite activities.

3. Working all the time.

4. Acting distant or withdrawing from family and friends.

5. Impulsiveness or risk-taking

6. Problems with concentration

7. Feeling frustrated, discouraged, or cynical.

8. Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed.

The treatment for male and female postpartum depression is the same; in some cases, medication is required and almost always therapy. Doctors and support groups help individuals and couples dealing with this to prevent it from affecting them and the baby. Help is available and within reach; the problem is there is no screening from doctors or the community. I have said it before, and I will always believe it, information is power. There are many, many things out of our control as parents; there is also a lot in our bodies that we cannot control, but there are things that you can do to minimize your risk. Equip yourself with the right tools and the right community around you. You will be better prepared to deal with all the anxiety, fears, and the feeling of being inadequate or incompetent that always accompany new parents. And it takes time, be patient with yourself and your partner, no one goes from zero to mom or from 6 to dad in a second.

You are not alone, and no one said it was easy, but it is worth it.


Sources [1] [2] Saxbe DE, Schetter CD, Simon CD, Adam EK, Shalowitz MU. High paternal testosterone may protect against postpartum depressive symptoms in fathers but confer risk to mothers and children. Horm Behav. 2017 Sep;95:103-112. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.07.014. Epub 2017 Aug 31. PMID: 28757312. [3] Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and Postpartum Depression in Fathers and Its Association With Maternal Depression: A Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010;303(19):1961–1969. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.605

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