New fathers have it pretty rough. The baby and mother get all the attention, leading to feelings of abandonment and possibly resentment of the new interloper. Subtly or overtly, many moms and grandmothers shunt aside new fathers as they swoop in to take care of baby, leaving dad feeling feckless and incompetent. On top of it, the pressure to provide for a child hits home. Combine these feelings with a lack of sleep and a steep new fatherhood learning curve, and you have a recipe for turbulence.
While the occurrence of Postpartum Depression (PPD) and anxiety in new moms is fairly well known and discussed -- though still mostly undiagnosed-- PPD can occur in new dads as well. Some studies report that one in ten new fathers experience PPD! Surprised? Unfortunately, the vast majority of new fathers get neither diagnosed nor help for their symptoms.
The symptoms of PPD can look different in men and women, with men often becoming withdrawn, perhaps distancing themselves by working longer than necessary hours at work, or by exhibiting greater irritability and lashing out in anger. Women more frequently have symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, bouts of crying, a sense of helplessness and of feeling overwhelmed. In either case, the ramifications for a new family can be severe and troubling if left unaddressed.
During the transition from pregnancy to new parenthood, many fathers feel that they have to be "the strong one" to support their partners through the difficult physical and emotional adjustment period that comes with giving birth. Unfortunately, new fathers often neglect their own well being in the process.
So what can be done if you are a new father who doesn't feel like yourself and may be depressed? Here are four suggestions:
- Check in regularly with your partner. Share what it's been like during this time. Sometimes just getting the feelings off your chest can be a huge relief. Make a point of taking at least a few minutes every day to talk. Send texts or emails when you're apart during the day. Don't stop communicating.
- Reach out to other new dads through meet ups, support groups or friends that are new parents. Commiserating with other guys can really help to avoid feeling isolated and it's helpful to know that you are not alone. There are parenting listservs in most neighborhoods in New York City, check out groups.yahoo.com to search for one in your area.
- Take care of your needs. Rest, exercise, and eat well. You are no good to anyone if you are tired and burned out.
- Finally, consider getting professional help if your symptoms don't seem to be getting better after a few weeks. Talking over your experiences and feelings with someone neutral can make a big difference and can help you enjoy this time as a new family.