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Do a significant number of new fathers experience postnatal depression?
Though there will be naysayers, an Oxford University study estimates one out of every 20 new dads experience a major depressive eppisode after their child is born. The depression is triggered by hormonal fluctuations and the stress of coping with the expectations of fatherhood.
Without diminishing what mothers go through during pregnancy and childbirth, the responsibility, commitment, caring, and expense of parenthood falls on both parents. The impact this has on fathers may be under appreciated. We know doctors pay little attention to the father’s welfare after a delivery, and new dads may have no idea why they suddenly feel bleak, irritable, overwhelmed, and fatigued.
An interesting research study done at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana showed that fathers-to-be produce less cortisol and testosterone than non-expectant men. Other studies reveal that expectant dads can have spikes in the secretion of estrogen and prolactin.
In some men, the changing flow of their own hormones during and after the pregnancy leads to weight gain, lethargy, increased emotional sensitivity, and a reduction in libido. Yet, postnatal depression is difficult to diagnose in men since some symptoms (e.g., loss of appetite, guilt feelings, fatigue) are typically attributed to the lack of sleep common with new parents.
It seems that greater awareness of possible postnatal depression in men is called for since a new father’s mood and energy level affect the dynamics of the entire family. Just when a new dad is expected to step up and shoulder more, he may feel like isolating and shouldering less. He might, as men tend to do, hide the way he feels only to express the distress as frustration or anger.
“Your mood, your habits, even your weight changes,” said one 34 year old dad eventually diagnosed with postnatal depression. “I’d describe it a bit like living in a black hole. I hid away from phone calls, appointments, anniversaries and friends. I became irritable. I was in a bad place. My relationship and my family suffered during this period. We all did.”
While men cannot carry a fetus, the mental, emotional, and physical changes expectant dads experience are significant and need to be valued. Maybe with increased awareness health care professionals will pay more attention to the welfare of new moms and dads, together waiting for their bundle of joy and responsibility.
Source: The Telegraph
Photo credit: Andrew Blight / flickr
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