Dad kissing his sleeping baby's head Dad kissing his sleeping baby's head

Paternal postnatal depression

Being a father: Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND)

The arrival of a new baby is meant to be a time of great joy and excitement, but for some men the transition into parenthood can be a difficult time. Statistics suggest that up to 10% of new fathers suffer from Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND).

As a condition, PPND is difficult to define and it is not restricted to the postnatal period. In fact, a study found that pregnancy is the most stressful time for men who are making the transition into parenthood. It is at this time when relationships are beginning to change and their partner, as the expectant mother, is receiving increased attention.

There is a general expectation that the father’s role is to continue to bring home the bacon, provide emotional support to his partner, help with household duties and caring for the baby, and to take over at the end of the day when he gets home from work. That’s a tall order to fill.

One of the most significant risk factors for PPND is postnatal depression in the mother. In up to 50% of couples where the mother is depressed, the father is depressed too.

New fathers with PPND may present with a number of symptoms including difficulty sleeping, irritability, poor concentration and even substance abuse. According to current research some men are at risk of becoming involved in destructive behaviour, or they avoid the situation – indulging themselves in work or sport to get away from it.

But it is not just the parents who suffer. Research suggests that children whose parents are depressed are at an increased risk of social, psychological and cognitive problems.

Furthermore, a father’s depression alone has been found to double the risk of emotional and behavioural problems in children at three and a half years of age.

So what can we do to support new dads?

It is advisable to read parenting books or browse the internet for information. In the postnatal period it is important to make time to maintain an individual identity outside of the role of father and partner. There is nothing wrong with caring about yourself too.

A PPND success story

Craig (not his real name) first noticed that something wasn’t right when his wife was 5 months’ pregnant. He didn’t want to burden his wife in any way by talking to her about what he was experiencing and with no one else to talk to he kept these feelings to himself.

Consequently memories of his father’s own parenting and issues that he had as a child resurfaced; he was scared of becoming like his own dad. Craig began to have recurrent panic attacks. It was then that he decided to seek help. A psychologist spoke with Craig about his concepts of fatherhood, his communication strategies and mechanisms for redressing his work-life balance. They talked about anticipating life with a baby and planning inclusive family ‘rituals’ and activities.

Follow-up after the birth of his child showed that Craig was managing well. His communication with his wife was good, he was really enjoying fatherhood, panic-attacks weren’t happening and he was clear about work-life balance.

There are groups who work with men to build up their strengths, the things they are good at doing with their children and setting goals to work towards stronger families.

Advice for new fathers:

  • Seek information about parenting and babies from websites and/or parenting books.

  • Speak to your GP or local community health clinic for information and support.

  • Talk to family or friends with children about their experience of parenting.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle and external interests.

  • If you are experiencing changing moods, seek help early.


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