By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Becoming a dad doesn’t guarantee an instantly blissful family. According to www.postpartummen.com, as many as 1 in 4 new dads experience some level of “baby blues” or depression when their child is born.
While the postpartum depression women experience is partially biologically based, thanks to fluctuating hormones, men can also experience depression symptoms that can persist.
Any change, even a positive one, causes stress, whether it’s a job promotion, move or new baby. The entire pregnancy and birthing experience creates plenty of stress for men because so many factors are out of Dad’s hands and, should something go unplanned, he can’t fix it.
Steven Sanfilippo, psychotherapist with CrossBridge Counseling in Rochester, said that men are hardwired to be the “fixers” so an experience that’s so far out of their control can become very stressful.
“If the child has a disability, there’s a much higher likelihood of issues in the marriage,” Sanfilippo said. “But postpartum depression can happen when they have a perfectly healthy baby.”
A new baby may make it difficult for the dad to keep certain friends and hobbies. Staying out late with friends, taking spontaneous trips, enjoying late date nights are much harder–if not impossible–now since his baby and the mom need him. Though usually not the primary caretaker, the dad may be sleeping less, eating poorly and enjoying less personal and intimate time than before.
Sanfilippo said that the “big four” areas of life–personal, work, family and health–can easily become out of balance when a baby joins the family.
“It affects every aspect of your life, especially money. If someone’s finding that they are feeling unable to function, or that whatever’s going wrong with them is affecting these areas, that’s when therapy is recommended,” he said.
The dad may experience anger–even with the baby–as well as inability to sleep, disruption in eating patterns, lack of bonding with the baby and inability to focus.
Joining a parenting group, asking family members for help, talking with other new dads and focusing on what they can do with their babies can help men adjust to fatherhood if they’re experiencing a mild case of “baby blues” and not depression.
“If the way that someone is dealing with it is unhealthy, they should seek therapy,” Sanfillipo said.
Sanfillipo said that talk therapy helps many men.
Unhealthy coping may include avoiding the baby, increased alcohol use, drug use, and isolation from friends and family.
John M. Aceto, licensed mental health counselor in private practice in Brighton, said that “men, in general, are less likely to seek mental health care. The mental health field has made a lot of strides but there’s still a stigma. Many people won’t see someone because they don’t want to admit there’s something wrong with me and someone needs to fix it.”
In addition to talk therapy and a good support system, Sanfillipo recommends that new dads try to exercise and eat a healthful diet.
“These are all the things someone with depression should have anyway, and these are critically important if you’re a new dad,” Sanfillipo added.