Fathers are nearly as likely to experience anxiety around the arrival of a new baby as mothers, according to research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
The causes of anxiety and depression around the arrival of a new baby are poorly understood.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the risk is greater for those who have had difficulty becoming pregnant or problems during pregnancy or birth, for those who have lost a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth, among teenage mothers, in cases of multiple births or if the child has a health problem.
However, depression can occur even with a healthy pregnancy and healthy birth.
According to the CDC, postnatal depression includes the usual depression symptoms but may feature:
- Inability to sleep even when the baby does
- Feeling numb or disconnected from the baby
- Having fearful or negative thoughts about the baby, such as that someone will hurt him or her, or take them away
- Worrying about hurting the baby or about not being a good parent.
Mental health researcher Dr. Liana Leach, from ANU Centre for Aging, Health and Wellbeing, and colleagues collected and reviewed 43 separate studies published prior to April 2015.
The studies contained data on anxiety symptoms and prevalence in fathers before a birth and during the child’s first year.
Anxiety before and after a child arrives is just as prevalent as depression, affecting around 1 in 10 men, around half the rate for women. Prevalence ranged between 4.1% and 16% prior to the birth and from 2.4% to 18% during the postnatal period.
Risk factors include lack of social support, especially from a partner, financial difficulties and a history of mental health problems. The CDC add that fathers aged 15-24 and those of lower education and income are most likely to experience depression.
Symptoms of anxiety can include worrying or feeling tense much of the time, irritability and fears for the baby’s safety. Physical symptoms can include a racing heart, feeling sweaty, poor sleep and poor appetite.
Dr. Leach says:
“Having a new baby is a time of great adjustment for many parents, and it is normal to be nervous, but anxiety can become a problem when it persists for extended periods and interferes with everyday functioning.”
She explains that men can feel left out of the process of pregnancy and childbirth because they are so integrally linked to the mother, and this can compound the problem.
She adds that health care at this time should be about the whole family, whether relating to obstetrics or mental health, and calls on couples to be aware of their mental health from when they realize they are pregnant.
She says that men do not tend to seek help, because they think “it’s not so much about me,” but they should seek help because early intervention reduces the severity and duration of symptoms. If they do not, their anxiety can adversely impact themselves, their partner and the child.
Last year, Medical News Today reported that postpartum depression can continue long term for some women.