It’s the postpartum struggle almost no one talks about.
Like new moms, new dads can also suffer the devastating effects of depression in the periods before, during and after pregnancy. But since men don’t endure the hormonal fluctuations associated with childbirth, a common misconception is they must be exempt from struggles like postpartum depression (PPD).
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
A 2015 Canadian study revealedthat roughly 13% of first-time fathers experienced “elevated depressive symptoms” during the latter stages of their partner’s pregnancy. Even starker is the fact that an overwhelming majority (80%)of men refuse to seek medical care until convinced by their spouse, likely due do the ongoing stigma and misinformation surrounding male PPD.
SYMPTOMS & FACTORS
Similar to new moms, symptoms of PPD in new dads can range in severity and adopt many different forms. Below are some common examples:
While a personal or family history of depression can be a contributing factor in PPD among men, other considerations may also be at play, including:
As I mentioned above, an overwhelming majority of men suffering with PPD refuse to get help until persuaded by their partner.
Research shows, however, that speaking with a registered therapist can be very effective in treating symptoms of perinatal depression in men. In addition, online support groups are available for those wishing to share their experiences anonymously. Medication may also be prescribed in the most extreme PPD cases.
The important thing to remember is that male PPD is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be overcome and support is always available.
Like so many things linked to childbirth, women’s emotions both during and after pregnancy can be incredibly hard to predict.
And while society has gradually become better at helping new mothers identify postpartum feelings of depression, sadness and withdrawal, other symptoms associated with giving birth haven’t been as widely explored.
I’m speaking today about postpartum anxiety.
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM ANXIETY?
Together with its more well-known counterpart, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety affects approximately 23% of Canadian mothers, according to Statistics Canada. It is characterized by excessive nervousness, nonstop worry and an inability to relax in the aftermath of childbirth that impacts a mother’s ability to care for herself and her newborn child.
Unfortunately, these signs often go undiagnosed by medical professionals or get lumped in with “new mom jitters” that so many women experience in the frenzied days and months following delivery.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP?
A reasonable amount of worry is to be expected after having a baby, especially as a first-time parent. It’s when those feelings of fear or panic become overwhelming (for example: you avoid leaving the house with your baby out of fear they’ll get sick or hurt or you can’t sleep for worry of leaving them unattended) that it’s time to seek additional support.
If you’re feeling overcome with anxiety after giving birth, speak to your pediatrician or OBGYN about getting help, including asking for a referral to a therapist with perinatal experience. Speaking to an expert can be beneficial in and of itself but they can also provide evidence-based solutions, like grounding exercises and controlled breathing techniques, aimed at promoting relaxation.
Medication that is safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding may also be recommended in the case of extreme postpartum anxiety.
Though often harder to recognize and more seldom discussed than postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety is a real condition affecting a significant percentage of new moms. Thankfully, it is also highly treatable and does not have to define your experience of motherhood.
Do not hesitate to seek help if you or someone you love is showing signs of postpartum anxiety. It’s never too late and support is always available.
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.