Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND) in men is a hitherto neglected but important aspect of new fatherhood. It has been estimated to occur in anywhere from 1 to 30 percent of men following the birth of a child. Many factors work together to make its management difficult.
Maternal depression is one of the factors that are consistently linked with the occurrence of depression in men soon after the birth of a child to the couple. Depression in the mother not only increases the stress of taking care of the enlarged family unit, but also elevates the degree of responsibility borne by the male partner. Anxiety, risky behaviors such as alcohol abuse, other psychiatric disorders, financial stress, and loss of intimacy and physical relations with the female spouse all play their roles in the genesis of PPND.
It is possible to take preventive steps to avoid the development of PPND, and if it occurs, to alleviate the severity of the condition. These include social, familial, and governmental support.
Education and Social Support
Prenatal classes or discussion groups may help prepare a couple for parenthood, imparting knowledge about pregnancy, childbirth, and early infancy. This will also help increase the father’s sense of competence and mastery of the situation, both of which are closely related to the male sense of well-being.
In addition, being able to share the work of looking after a very young child from birth onwards has many positive stress-busting effects on the father, both long- and short-term. This not only helps draw the father into the initial parent-child bonding much earlier, but supplies a greater sense of reward in the form of the baby’s contented smiles or when the baby falls asleep in the father’s arms. In addition, giving the mother relief from the constant work of caring for the new baby helps both partners bond more intimately, increases sexual desire on the part of the female partner, and builds trust into the relationship.
Helping both partners to understand more about pregnancy and the postpartum period, and especially what is expected of them as parents, is far more effective than educating women alone, when it comes to fighting paternal or maternal PPND. Education can help promote readiness to face new situations with comparatively advanced skills. In addition, PPND often starts early in pregnancy, and therefore such programs help to offer effective interventions early enough to avoid serious complications.
Fathers at risk of paternal PND may value the love and support of their partners most of all. This reflects the high impact that partners have on each other in marriage, with respect to their mental and emotional health, and the strength that a healthy relationship confers to carry the partners through difficult or stressful times.
Extended family support may be crucial in helping fathers at risk to avoid PPND. The critical know-how on being a good father may often be lacking, despite the best of intentions. At such times, helping out by providing sound advice and reinforcing the father’s efforts, while recognizing the difficulties involved, stimulate the father’s confidence and promote deeper, better involvement in caring for the child.
Many countries offer paid paternity leave for fathers to look after their wives and babies soon after childbirth. This not only helps cement the father’s attachment to the child, but increases the quality of parenting and the father’s own quality of life. Such a policy would go far in helping to avoid PPND to a large extent.
Finally, men lack the will or the ability, in many cases, to express what they are going through. It is necessary that a support network be available to new fathers, including babysitting services if required. Rather than regarding men in a family as being mere breadwinners, recognizing the father’s crucial role in parenting and husbanding a family will trigger more effective measures to evaluate their level of adjustment during this demanding time. It will also be of great help in ensuring that those who need it are guided to readily available facilities for medication or counseling, whichever intervention is appropriate for the situation.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc