Can fathers experience antepartum and postpartum depression?

Most people know how much pregnancy and early parenthood can affect a mother’s mental health. Fewer know about the toll they can take on new dads. When faced with sleepless nights, hormonal changes (yes, dads get those too), and a brand new set of fears and anxieties, some men may slowly feel less and less like their “normal” selves.

Paternal antepartum (before birth) depression and postpartum (after birth) depression are more common than you may think. Around 10% of men may experience depression during or after a partner’s pregnancy (this number jumps to 25% during the three- to six-month postpartum period). No matter the parent’s gender, depression isn’t a weakness or character flaw. It’s a medical condition, and it’s treatable.

Depression Risk Factors for New and Expecting Dads 

There’s no single thing that determines whether a new dad gets antepartum or postpartum depression, but these factors may play a role:

  • Hormone changes during and after your partner’s pregnancy
  • A partner with depression
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Feeling disconnected from your partner
  • Trouble adjusting to parenthood
  • Stress about finances, work, or relationships
  • Sleep deprivation
  • A family or personal history of depression
  • Complications or other traumatic experiences during the birth

Signs of Paternal Antepartum and Postpartum Depression

It’s natural for some dads to have trouble coping with the changes and new responsibilities they face during and after a partner’s pregnancy. However, when feelings of stress and hopelessness linger for more than a few weeks, and you start losing interest in the things that used to give you joy, you may be dealing with something more serious than the “daddy blues.”

Depression looks different for everyone. It  can sometimes look more like anger or irritability than sadness in men, so it’s not always easy to spot right away. Here are some signs of paternal depression to look out for:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, sad, or anxious
  • Increased anger and irritability, sometimes causing sudden outbursts
  • Pulling back from relationships
  • Changes in eating habits or sleeping patterns
  • Trouble concentrating and finding motivation
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Fatigue
  • Thoughts of suicide

Tired father sleeping with baby on his lap

How can paternal depression affect fathers during and after pregnancy?

When you’re a father, your mental health is more important than ever. Depression can impact your relationships with your child, partner, and other people in your life. It can make it harder for you to:

  • Be present and enjoy spending time with your new baby
  • Pay attention during doctor’s visits for your partner or baby
  • Communicate and maintain a solid relationship with your partner

Untreated paternal depression can also impact a child’s growth and development. It’s associated with a higher risk of behavior issues in young children, as well as an increased likelihood of developing mental or physical health problems. 

Fortunately, a combination of talk therapy, support groups, and medication can be incredibly helpful in treating depression. For fathers experiencing depression, it’s not always easy to ask for help (understatement!), but it’s worth it, both for you and for your growing family.

If you think you or your partner may have paternal depression…

Remember, coping with pregnancy and parenthood can be hard for parents of any gender. It doesn’t mean that you're a terrible parent or even that you did anything wrong. With treatment and support, you can get back to the best version of yourself and be the parent your child deserves. Your future self will thank you!

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Please note: and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

November 01, 2022 — Stephanie McClintock