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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dads get post partum depression, too

The great discussion at last night's support meeting ("Healing From Traumatic Birth") reminded me of this recent article from the New York Times on fathers and post partum depression.

According to the article:

Up to 80 percent of women experience minor sadness — the so-called baby blues — after giving birth, and about 10 percent plummet into severe postpartum depression. But it turns out that men can also have postpartum depression, and its effects can be every bit as disruptive — not just on the father but on mother and child.

We don’t know the exact prevalence of male postpartum depression; studies have used different methods and diagnostic criteria. Dr. Paul G. Ramchandani, a psychiatrist at the University of Oxford in England who did a study based on 26,000 parents, reported in The Lancet in 2005 that 4 percent of fathers had clinically significant depressive symptoms within eight weeks of the birth of their children. But one thing is clear: It isn’t something most people, including physicians, have ever heard of.

 I guess it really shouldn't be surprising. Childbirth certainly transforms life for a woman who becomes a mother, but men go through a significant change as well, often bringing up new worries about the health and well-being of their partners and children, as well as increased financial and other strain. In the case of men whose partners have had traumatic birth experiences, the rate of post partum depression might be even higher.

So, why don't we know more about this? Again, from the article:

Unlike women, men are not generally brought up to express their emotions or ask for help. This can be especially problematic for new fathers, since the prospect of parenthood carries all kinds of insecurities: What kind of father will I be? Can I support my family? Is this the end of my freedom?

And there is probably more to male postpartum depression than just social or psychological stress; like motherhood, fatherhood has its own biology, and it may actually change the brain.

A 2006 study on marmoset monkeys, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, reported that new fathers experienced a rapid increase in receptors for the hormone vasopressin in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Along with other hormones, vasopressin is involved in parental behavior in animals, and it is known that the same brain area in humans is activated when parents are shown pictures of their children.

There is also some evidence that testosterone levels tend to drop in men during their partner’s pregnancy, perhaps to make expectant fathers less aggressive and more likely to bond with their newborns. Given the known association between depression and low testosterone in middle-aged men, it is possible that this might also put some men at risk of postpartum depression.

Well, duh. I guess we could have guess at the whole men-don't-express-their-emotions well. But the biological links are not something that I had ever thought about.

So, what can we women, their wives and partners, do about it? One thing is to get help for our own depression. The reason is this:

By far the strongest predictor of paternal postpartum depression is having a depressed partner. In one study, fathers whose partners were also depressed were at nearly two and a half times the normal risk for depression. That was a critical finding, for clinicians tend to assume that men can easily step up to the plate and help fill in for a depressed mother. In fact, they too may be stressed and vulnerable to depression.

There are lots of resources in the Twin Cities community for support in healing from depression and other difficult emotions after birth. Whether you had a traumatic experience or the most wonderful birth imaginable, post partum depression can be a serious, but not insurmountable, issue - not only for moms, but for dads too.

Click here for a list of local resources.

1 comment:

SheGotHipsLikeCinderella said...

Very interesting- I mean of course it happens, but it isn't something people think about.