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When dads feel down: coping with being a new father

June 19, 2020

Did you know that men can get postnatal depression (PND) as well as women? Fathers experience hormonal changes after they’ve had a baby, just like mothers do, and this can affect the way they feel. According to the NCT, men are twice as prone to becoming depressed in the year following their child’s arrival than the general population, and this is most likely to happen 3-6 months after the birth. One in 10 men feel depressed during their partner’s pregnancy.

Mental health difficulties experienced by new dads are less likely to get picked up on, however, most people’s focus throughout the pregnancy and afterwards will be on how the mother is doing, and she’ll receive close attention from midwives and health visitors, and during scans and screenings. And once the baby is born, of course, he or she will be the star of the show! Fathers can easily get forgotten.

There are a number of reasons you might struggle after becoming a dad. It’s a major life transition, and there’s a lot to adjust to – not least a raft of new responsibilities. If it’s your first baby, the relationship with your partner will have changed forever. Meanwhile, natural problem solvers can end up feeling frustrated and guilty if there’s an issue they can’t do something practical to fix.

This can sometimes become a vicious cycle – for instance, if there are problems with breastfeeding dad might think “I can’t do anything to make this better; I’m of no use to my partner or the baby”. This may lead to feelings of sadness or anger, which could trigger a behaviour change – for example withdrawing from the mother and baby. In turn, this withdrawal could impact the father’s relationship with his partner and his bond with the child, resulting in further feelings of being useless or sidelined.

It’s important that new dads and dads-to-be recognise when they’re experiencing depression, and take action to address it, as it can affect relationships with his family as well as his general happiness and wellbeing.

Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Increased irritability
  • Taking more risks
  • Avoidance tactics - such as working longer hours or drinking more alcohol
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Loss of libido
  • Feeling out of control
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach aches

It’s easy to miss many of these signals; tiredness in particular is a fact of life when your sleep is being interrupted by a young baby! Look for subtle changes. For instance, if you wake up when the baby needs feeding, that’s normal, but if you’re lying awake worrying while the baby is sound asleep that could be a sign that something else is at the root of the issue.

Understanding the factors that make it more likely you’ll experience depression around the birth of a baby can also help. These can be situational or psychological.

Situational factors that can make you more susceptible include:

  • Your partner is feeling depressed
  • The baby is crying a lot, or is having sleeping problems
  • The birth was traumatic
  • You have a lack of support
  • You’re a young or first-time dad
  • You’ve experienced depression in the past

The psychological factors that can come into play include:

  • Having high expectations of the birth or fatherhood which didn’t quite pan out
  • A tendency to find it hard to adjust to new situations
  • Having low esteem, or lacking in confidence
  • Feeling of incompetence; that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

If you are experiencing depression, don’t suffer in silence. Do talk to your partner or friends about it if you feel able to. You can also ask your GP what support or talking therapies are available in your local area, as well as search for online forums and blogs which may connect you to the experiences of other dads in your position.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be effective by giving you a toolkit of practical strategies and approaches to help you to break the ‘vicious cycle’, by resetting the way you think and behave. ieso offers online CBT, which could be a good option if you’re looking after a newborn or want to get treatment discreetly.

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This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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