New Fathers Get Depressed After Childbirth, Too


If you or your partner are stressed out, unemployed or not in excellent health, now is not the time to get pregnant.

While that may sound like common sense, it’s also the implicit message in new research published in JAMA Psychiatry. While loads of research has been conducted regarding women who become depressed before, during and after pregnancy, assessing how men relate to the stressors of having a baby still is a novel concept.

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But it shouldn’t be, argue the authors of the study, which looked at more than 3,500 New Zealand males with an average age of 33. “Paternal depression is associated with negative child outcomes, including emotional and behavioral problems,” reported the authors, led by Lisa Underwood of the University of Auckland. “Although paternal depression does not expose fetuses and infants to the same intrauterine/physiological risks as maternal depression, paternal genetic and psychosocial factors may act directly on the child and indirectly through their effect on maternal well-being.”

The study found that 2.3 percent of their study sample suffered from depression during the third trimester of their female mate’s pregnancy. The number jumped to 4.3 percent when assessing depression levels nine months after childbirth.

For fathers who reported depression nine months after the baby was born, associated factors included no longer being in a relationship with the mother, having fair to poor health, not having a job and having a prior history of depression.

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Previous studies have reported depression rates among men during a partner’s pregnancy from between 2 percent to 19 percent. For women, the statistic ranges from 12 percent to 19 percent.

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Risks for depression before birth among mothers includes unplanned pregnancies, domestic violence, lack of social support and mental illness. “There is less evidence on paternal ADS (depression before birth), but risks include anxiety, daily ‘hassles,’ and having a depressed partner,” the authors reported. “Different factors are likely to contribute to the risk of depression in each of the perinatal periods.”

Depression among fathers after pregnancy often is brought on by marital conflict, the authors noted. “Evidence suggests that depression in either parent increases the likelihood of the partner developing perinatal depression symptoms,” according to the study. “However, the influence of paternal depression on women seems to be greater than vice versa. Unlike women, there is not a strong link between mental health problems and paternal perinatal depression.

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“More prospective longitudinal studies that include partnered men and women spanning both perinatal periods are needed to confirm these findings.”

In a 2015 study published by Asia-Pacific Psychiatry, the authors called for a “paradigm shift” in research involving the mental health of parents about to have a baby. “This paradigm shift needs to involve greater research into the fathering role and paternal mental illness during the perinatal period, including further studies into risk factors, impact on the family system, and the most appropriate form of intervention and service provision.”

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”