There are several different forms of depression (i.e. major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder), but one that is not talked about as often is postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is diagnosed when there is an onset of major or minor depression during pregnancy or within the first 12 months after giving birth, and affects 1 in 7 new moms (14.5%). There is not a clear cause of PPD, but it is believed to be caused by physiological changes, a previous history of depression, poor sleep, or the burden of childcare.
No matter the cause, it is a disorder with extreme consequences. Beyond the depression in the mother and marital conflict, it also impairs family functioning and child development. For instance, a mother with PPD may not attend to the child’s needs as much, impairing child health and growth. It may also influence the child’s psychopathology later in life, increasing their risk for anxiety, depression, or emotion disorders.
A large portion of the current research has focused on PPD in mothers, but it is missing something important: the father. Men can also suffer from PPD, and it affects approximately 10% of new dads. This compares to a depression incidence of 5% in men in the general population (not new dads), revealing just how serious of an issue this is.
What causes PPD in men? This is a very new area of study, and one can only formulate educated guesses as to why men also suffer from PPD. According to Family Systems Theory, a family member’s emotions influence the emotions of those in their household, so it is possible that men develop PPD if their wife also has PPD. In fact, PPD in men and PPD in women are positively correlated, such that the father is at higher risk for PPD if the mother also develops it. An explanation for this relationship has to do with social support. A male’s strongest source of support is his wife, and if she has PPD she may not be as emotionally available to help him with the stress of being a new father.
While not yet shown with any empirical data, I would hypothesize that poor sleep also influences PPD in men. Following birth, sleep schedules in both parents are drastically changed and impaired sleep is a risk factor for the onset of depression. Further, more dads now than ever are stay at home dads, thus embodying the role of the infant’s primary care taker.
We know that research on PPD is important because it influences the physical and mental health of both the infant and the parents. Dads may be a particularly important group to learn more about in relation to PPD. A 1998 study found that a non-depressed father may buffer the negative effects of the relationship between a mom with PPD and child development. In other words, the dad may compensate for the mother’s PPD and take a larger role in caring for the infant. Overall, PPD research in both new mothers and fathers is extremely important, and future investigations need to learn more about PPD etiology, prevention, and treatment.
Goodman, J. H. (2004). Paternal postpartum depression, its relationship to maternal postpartum depression, and implications for family health. Journal of Advance Nursing, 45 (1), 26-35.
Grace, S. L., Evindar, A., & Stewart, D. E. (2003). The effect of postpartum depression on child cognitive development and behavior: a review and critical analysis of the literature. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 6 (4), 263-274.
Paulson, J. F., & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. JAMA, 303 (19), 1961-1969.