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Information for New Dads

 Dad and Infant - African American  

Becoming a New Father

Postpartum Mood Disorders

Understanding Postpartum Mood Disorders

Supporting Your Partner

Fathers Need Support

Becoming A New Father

Having a new baby is a big change for all family members. It can be an exciting and joyful time. However, a newborn may also be a source of stress and anxiety for many parents. To make matters more stressful, some women experience a postpartum mood disorder after having a baby. As a husband, you may be the first one to notice that your partner is showing signs of a postpartum mood disorder. That is why it is very important that all fathers understand what postpartum mood disorders are all about.

 

Postpartum Mood Disorders

It is common for new moms to experience the baby blues (50-80%) within the first two weeks after giving birth. New moms may cry frequently, feel sad, irritable, tired, and frustrated and have difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

If symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, mom may be experiencing postpartum depression. Postpartum depression (PPD) affects 10-15% of new moms. Symptoms may start slowly or suddenly. It is more intense and longer lasting than baby blues.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling anxious or overwhelmed
  • Changes in eating
  • Having no feelings for the baby
  • A fear of hurting one’s self or the baby
  • Having less energy
  • An inability to feel better even when all is going well
  • Feeling “out of control”

 

Postpartum anxiety disorder can occur within 3 weeks of delivery and up until 1 year after the birth of the baby. It may start during pregnancy.

Symptoms include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • General to extreme anxiety
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling distracted
  • “Supermom” syndrome

 

Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder can occur within 3 weeks of delivery and up until 1 year after the birth of the baby.

Symptoms include:

  • Repeated scary thoughts about baby (e.g. “seeing” baby drown, “seeing” baby fall down stairs)
  • Obsessive thoughts (e.g. contracting AIDS)
  • Avoidance behaviour (e.g. stays away from baby to make bad thoughts go away)
  • Anxiety and/or depression

A new mother with these symptoms is very aware of these thoughts and that these thoughts are wrong. She does not harm the baby.

 

Postpartum psychosis occurs in 1 to 2 cases in 1000 births. This is the least common disorder but is the most serious. The onset is usually within hours of giving birth but can be delayed (typically within 72 hours).

Symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations (hearing things or seeing things)
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Decreased energy
  • Problems with reality
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Strange behaviour

 

Understanding Postpartum Mood Disorders

Postpartum mood disorders (PPMD) are medical conditions that can be treated successfully. If your partner has been diagnosed with a PPMD, it is very important for you to find out all you can.

A postpartum mood disorder can happen to anyone - in women with no history of depression or women who have had it before. It can happen to women who are very successful in their careers or women who stay home with their children permanently. It can happen to women in stable marriages and troubled marriages, as well as single women and adoptive mothers. It can happen after the first child, the third child or for all of your children.

It is not completely understood why PPMDs affects some women and not others. Some women who have many risk factors may not experience it. Others, who have no risk factors, may end up with a full-blown episode. Generally, women are twice as likely to experience depression than men. Women are more at risk to experience a depressive episode following the birth of a baby than at any other time.

A postpartum mood disorder is a real illness. A new mom is not making this up. This did not happen because she's a bad mother; or because she doesn't love her baby enough. Remember, she cannot just "snap out of it."

 

Supporting Your Partner

This is not what you expected to happen after the birth of your Mom dad and babybaby. If your partner has been diagnosed with a PPMD, it will take a while for her to recover. Recovery may take weeks to months. She will get better. She will return to her "normal" self but this will not happen overnight. Be supportive to help her recovery.

A postpartum mood disorder is nobody's fault, not yours or your partner’s. Reassure your partner that there is nothing she has done to make this happen.

 

Fathers Need Support

Men need support, too, especially the first-time father who doesn’t know what to expect and who is trying to help his partner while coping with his own feelings.

Research is showing that men can experience a paternal depression after the birth of a child. It is linked to maternal postpartum depression. Some researchers suggest that something that affects one member of the family affects other members. For example, one parent’s depression affects all members of the family.

Generally, men are also becoming more involved in childcare. Now, having a child is seen as needing major adjustments for men as well as women.

Men need to look after themselves, they should:

  • Take time for themselves
  • Find someone to talk to
  • Continue to follow some of their own interests
  • Be aware of their own needs

 

 

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has developed a booklet Just For New Dads. Click here to download a pdf copy or contact the Intake Nurse at 519-258-2146 ext. 1350.

 

References:

Chokka, P. Postpartum depression: Part I. The Canadian Journal of Continuing Medical Education. 2002, 14(4).

Postpartum Stress Centre 2004


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