Postnatal depression in dads; an expert view

Postnatal depression in dads is finally getting the recognition it deserves. It can make parenthood a real struggle but traditionally the focus has fallen on mums rather than dads. A top doctor answered our questions about it.

Man with head in hands leaning on the edge of a cot containing a baby


There’s growing recognition that postnatal depression can affect dads.

Becoming a parent is a life-changing event, no-one can fully prepare for it. And everyone sometimes feels overwhelmed by the emotional and physical impact.

You can read one new dad’s experience of it here.

Dr Mark Winwood, a psychological health expert with health company AXA PPP healthcare writes for us about postnatal depression, what it is, what causes it and how to get help if you need it.

Can men get postnatal depression and is there any help out there for new dads who do suffer?

Interesting question – there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that paternal postnatal depression is a very real problem. Research cited on the NHS website found that up to one in 10 new dads experience depressive symptoms after the birth of their child, yet it’s only very recently that postnatal depression in men has been more widely acknowledged.

It’s likely this is because of the widely held belief that postnatal depression is caused by hormonal changes women experience post-birth. We now know that postnatal depression is actually triggered by a number of factors, of which hormonal changes are just one possible contender. And many of these factors apply to both parents: adjusting to a major life-change, lack of sleep and fear of failure, to name but a few.

When there is a lot of pressure financially, emotionally and physically on a new father, it can cause excessive stress, which can then lead to depression. Dads (like mums) are also at a higher risk if they have previously suffered from depression or if they’re a single parent, having the full responsibility of caring for a new born baby with no support from a partner.

A considerable factor can be that the balance and focus has shifted in the relationship. With either or both parents’ attention now mostly taken up on the baby, leaving little time or energy left for each other as a couple.

Evidence suggests that fathers can be impacted by postnatal depression in their partners. Same sex partners will be impacted in a similar way although there’s less research in this area. The other individuals who may experience the effects of a new mum or dad’s depressive symptoms are the other children in the family. There is evidence to suggest that a child’s psychological state and general wellbeing may be affected by their parent’s depression. Clearly, if someone is depressed the symptoms they have can affect everyone in the system (family, work, friendship networks) so any support and treatment offered should take this into consideration. The good news is that help is available. The NCT has some useful information for dads and partners, which includes postnatal depression in dads.

What are the signs of postnatal depression?

Just like any kind of depression, the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression will be different for everyone; the common factor being the timing, with symptoms developing in the weeks or months following childbirth.

Broadly speaking, depression is a constant feeling of sadness. This low mood is often accompanied by other signs and symptoms that fall into three categories:

  • Thoughts and feelings e.g. negative thinking, low self esteem, guilt and feeling helpless
  • Changes in behaviour e.g. distancing themselves from others, frequent crying and sleeping or eating a lot more or less than usual
  • Physical changes e.g. sudden increase or loss of appetite, listlessness or lack of energy/enthusiasm and constipation.

These are just a few postnatal depression symptoms to look out for. Check out our article on postnatal depression for a more comprehensive look at the signs, symptoms and causes of postnatal depression, how it can be diagnosed and what treatments are available.

How long can postnatal depression last for? Is it as severe as other forms of depression?

Postnatal depression usually starts four to six weeks after the birth of the child, although it can be a matter of months before symptoms develop. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the sort of treatment applied, the time to resolution will be different for everybody. It may last several months and sometimes up to a year, depending on individual factors. For some who don’t receive support and treatment it can last much longer, so it’s important to get the correct help.

It isn’t usual for someone to have postnatal depression symptoms for a matter of years. According to the NCT, less than a third of people who experience postnatal depression have symptoms lasting a year or more. In most cases, the condition dissipates after a matter of months.

As with any form of depression it can return, especially if left untreated. It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are lots of factors that can contribute to depression.

With postnatal depression, hormonal changes certainly play an important role. However, worries or anxieties over any major lifestyle changes, such as moving house or changing jobs can also influence mood.

And ‘yes’ postnatal depression is unquestionably as severe as any other depressive disorder and should be treated as such.

How common is postnatal depression?

If you looked at five different resources you’d get five different answers to this question. It’s all down to reporting and diagnosis. It is felt that postnatal depression is often misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed.

What advice would you give to a father who is struggling but feels guilty about it? It’s not an easy subject to bring up at a time when you’re expected to be feeling very joyful.

The first thing I can suggest is to talk to a friend or close family member who has also had a child (recently if possible) – someone you feel comfortable confiding in. It’s an old saying but ‘a problem shared…(you know the rest!).’

A few more tips:

  • Find people who can help with childcare, housework, and errands so you can get some much needed rest.
  • Make time for yourself every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes and do something relaxing or that makes you feel good about yourself. Try the body scan technique to really help you unwind. Or check out our self care tips.
  • Keep a daily diary of your emotions and thoughts. This is a good way to let everything out and to keep track of your progress as you begin to feel better.
  • Give yourself credit for the things you’re able to accomplish, even if you only get one thing done in a day.
  • If you aren’t able to get anything done, don’t be hard on yourself.
  • Give yourself permission to feel overwhelmed.
  • Be honest about how much you can do and ask others for help.

If I suffer depression normally will I have more chance of postnatal depression?

One of the risk factors of developing postnatal depression is a previous history of depression. This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically suffer from postnatal depression but it’s important to discuss the matter with your GP, health visitor or midwife so the correct assessments and supports can be put in place.

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