Post-partum depression (also referred to as ‘baby blues’) is recognized as a form of major depression and the most common complication after childbirth. What most people don’t realize though is that it happens to fathers also with the same debilitating impact on partner relationships and child development as when it happens to mothers.
Growing Girl speaks to Bruce Linton, PhD, a California licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Founder of the Father’s Forum who wrote his doctoral thesis on the Developmental Stages of Fatherhood – from Pregnancy to Post-Partum. Dr. Linton shares with us the warning signs and potential contributing factors, as well as emphasizing the need for more awareness in the medical community so fathers receive the same support mothers do.
When and why do symptoms emerge?
Dr. Linton explains there are four developmental phases of fatherhood and the symptoms of paternal post-partum depression occur in the first phase:
- The Emergent Phase is the phase when change is most noticeable and prominent. In this phase, feelings of anxiety and fear surface quickly often due to concerns over balancing childcare responsibilities and professional life. However, these are only small parts of a more comprehensive issue.
An increase in responsibility, a new father’s difficult relationship with his own father, an unwanted or unprepared for pregnancy, and ambivalence over becoming a dad are all potential triggers for paternal partum depression. In response to these symptoms, men will typically either withdraw or turn to controlling behaviors to cope with these unfamiliar and overwhelming emotions. In more severe cases, they will abandon the relationship entirely.
The incidence of post-partum depression among new mothers and fathers is the same – approximately 10-15% of new parents are affected; the difference is that the signs in men tend to be more subtle and often go unnoticed.
Fathers will often look like they’re doing fine because they internalize their suffering. As as a result of being less open than moms about their struggles, they also tend to lack the support networks mothers can find.
- The The Attachment Phase is the second phase which fathers progress to as the first year unfolds. This is when dads become attached to their children and partners; however, this phase remains work in progress and there is no specific timeline for when the shift from emergent to attachment phase will take place. The attachment phase continues to deepen and develop with each passing year of family life.
- The Affiliation Phase is the third phase. Here, fathers have balanced the anxiety they felt about the early stages of parenthood and will seek connection with other dads.
Sharing their changes and challenges of becoming dads the fathers can discover different approaches to parenting. Hearing from other dads about their styles and approaches to fatherhood and parenting can help them understand the options they may choose in their newly developing role as a dads.
- The Community Phase is the fourth phase, which appears at the pre-school age. In this phase fathers develop a connection with the larger community and its growth and development.
They feel responsible for the next generation, and become concerned about the greater good. ‘The focus is no longer on myself, but on a broader world’.
Subconscious fears, behavior and its effect on daughters
The repercussions for fathers who suffer silently are unfortunately picked up by his children. Research from the University of Cambridge showed that post-natal depression in dads, via mediating factors such as maternal depression and couple conflict, is significantly linked to depression in their teenage daughters. At 18, girls whose fathers had experienced depression after their birth were themselves at greater risk of the condition, thus highlighting the importance of recognizing and treating depression in fathers during the postnatal period.
Becoming a dad is an opportunity for men to get to know themselves
How the medical community can intervene
Medical professionals such as obstetricians, midwives and pediatricians come in direct contact with dads and are in the most suitable position to provide guidance. Prenatal classes for men are also an opportunity for expectant dads to voice their concerns and find affiliations. The main benefits of seeking support is gaining awareness of conflicting emotions and being able to manage them which leads to healthier relationships with partners and children.