With Father's Day right around the corner, I thought it was important to discuss that fathers and other non-birth parents are vulnerable to postpartum mood and anxiety disorders too. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders affect one in seven people who have given birth. One in five pregnant people suffers from depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders and other emotional challenges during their pregnancy. Prenatal mood disorders are the most common complication of pregnancy. The non-birth parent can also suffer from mood disorders after a baby has arrived.
One out of ten fathers experiences mood and anxiety disorders from the first trimester of pregnancy through the first six months of parenthood. When the three to six month period after birth is isolated and studied, that number goes up to 26% (Paulson & Bazemore, 2010). Despite all indications that fathers are at risk as well, this topic is rarely talked about. Many childbirth educators have an extremely limited amount of class time to cover the emotional health of the birthing person after the baby has arrived. Increasing awareness and information about how the father might be emotionally impacted is often not covered at all. Paternal perinatal and postpartum depression and anxiety is more likely when the birth parent is also dealing with this as well.
A local Seattle therapist, Chris Casazza, MA, LMHC, who specializes in fathers and postpartum mood disorders states that he noticesChris has found in his practice that dads tend to exhibit their symptoms differently than moms. He states, “I often hear from dads that they notice they are quicker to anger. Some feel like they want to withdraw from the family. Some do this by burying themselves at work or numbing their feelings with chemicals or other vices.” Chris finds that there is a cultural perception that men are strong and stable, and there is a stigma they face in reaching out for help. He states that this “unfortunately leads them to wait longer to get the help that they need, ultimately worsening the situation.”
Create a resource list
Many people are surprised that fathers and non-birth partners are also at risk of psychological challenges after the baby is born. If you don't have time to introduce this possibility adequately during your class time, consider at least mentioning the possibility and creating a resource list for the families in your class that includes local and online resources for both parents in the event of a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder in the family.
I always like to offer up local resources first when possible. In my area, there are Facebook groups specifically for fathers and also for stay-at-home dads. I am also familiar with those therapists (both male and female) who specialize in the postpartum transition for partners and fathers. Additionally, Perinatal Support Washington, a regional postpartum mood and anxiety resource in my area has a "Dad Warm Line" for fathers to talk about their partners' struggle or their own difficulties or both. We have several "Dad Meet-Up" events sponsored by local organizations as well as many more casual meet-ups posted online in local community groups.
Some parents will have difficulty accessing in person events but there are many online resources to share that can be accessed from anywhere. Other fathers and non-birth parents may be reluctant to connect face-to-face for a variety of reasons. Make sure your resource list included plenty of online resources including websites, warm lines, virtual chats, and forums Sometimes people are more comfortable with virtual support and are more likely to reach out if they are able to do so online or via phone. Online resources to consider:
- Postpartum Support International's monthly chat for men
- Postpartum Men
- Postpartum Dads
- International New Dads Group on Facebook
A reading list
Everybody comes to the decision to seek help at different times. Providing a reading list in advance that people can access before the baby comes can help parents feel prepared and informed in case they find their family affected by a mood or anxiety disorder. Consider including these books:
- Fatherneed by Kyle Pruett
- Partnership Parenting by Kyle Pruett
- Postpartum Husband by Karen Kleiman
- Tokens of Affection: Reclaiming Your Marriage after Postpartum Depression by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel
Reunions are a great checkpoint
If you hold reunions for your families after all the babies are born like I do, that is a great time to check in on both parents for emotional health, remind them to assess their own current situations and share the resource list you have created and shared before. I also have Facebook groups for my families and continue to monitor them after class ends for several months in case I can see a situation developing and offer information.
Conclusion and my favorite resource on this topic
It is important to mention the possibility of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders for fathers and the parent who does not give birth. One in ten fathers will experience this common pregnancy and postpartum upheaval and having resources on hand to help locate and identify local, national and online help will be gratefully appreciated and help transition the entire family to the new reality of welcoming a baby into their world. I am so grateful that in my own community, we have a fantastic resource, Perinatal Support Washington - that provides a comprehensive list for fathers. I am free to print it out and share with the families in my classes. Do check out their Perinatal Support Washington Resource & Referral Guide for Dads for ideas on what you can include on your own resource sheet.
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.