Depression and Anxiety in New Fathers and Fathers-To-Be

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dads and anxiety

(reading time ~6 min) 

This blog will talk about depression and anxiety in new fathers, both during prenatal and postnatal periods. Spoiler alert! New fathers experience prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety far more often than most people imagine. 

Becoming a new dad can be spectacular, exciting, and joyful. But for many, it can also be spectacularly overwhelming!

There are the sleepless nights, the endless changing of diapers, the crying baby, the worrying, taking care of Mom, and the endless chores. No wonder so many dads get stressed to the point of depression or anxiety.

There can be the challenge of balancing work and home life, the temporary overlooking of friendships, changes in marital relationships, and an endless world of childcare chores.

Men may feel out of control, worried about their baby, partner, and themselves. Yet it is a challenge that has to be seen through.

Depression and Anxiety in New Fathers 

depression and anxiety in new father

Several studies indicate that 1 in 10 dads struggle with prenatal and postpartum depression. One study of 622 first-time dads found that 13.3% had high levels of depressive symptoms during the 3rd trimester of their partner's pregnancy.

Anxiety is also quite common, with many symptoms that go hand-in-hand with depression. In 2021, one study showed that 1 in 10 dads also experience prenatal or postpartum anxiety.

In a study, The Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics found that dads-to-be experienced anxiety at rates of almost five times higher than average. Researcher Daniel Singly Ph.D. reported, "It's like the worst kept secret. You see far more anxiety than you do depression."

While research numbers are all over the board, it is safe to say that at least 10-20% of new dads and dads-to-be experience depression or anxiety.

Take Stock of Your Risk Factors for Paternal Depression and Anxiety 

There are so many factors that are sources of stress and increase the risk for depression and anxiety. Here are the major ones:

  • Limited paternity leave. It can be difficult to keep up a normal work schedule and still have time to spend with a newborn.
  • Poor quality and disrupted sleep. Sleep deprivation was found to be the strongest factor predicting depression in new fathers during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy.
  • New responsibilities. A newborn requires constant care at unpredictable times. This adjustment can be difficult for a new parent who has been used to a more independent lifestyle. Now you're on someone else's schedule.
  • Financial strain. Raising an infant is not inexpensive. Medical bills, clothing, and supplies can add up quickly. Needing to move into a larger home or provide child care can intensify the problem.
  • Less one-on-one time with your partner and baby leaves dad feeling left out of the equation, especially if moms don't share bonding time. Moms don't always realize that they're excluding dad from bonding time with the baby and time with mom.
  • Changes in your sex life can cause a strain on your relationship.
  • A history of depression raises the risk of prenatal or postpartum depression.
  • Your partner's depression. 24-50% of men with depressed partners showed signs of depression.
  • Having relationship problems. The family bond is only as strong as its weakest link. Mom and dad must be a team.
  • Low self-esteem can bring on feelings of incompetence as a parent. First-time fatherhood can add to feelings of insecurity and incompetence.
  • A challenging baby. A colicky or premature baby can create quite a bit of stress on the new father.
  • Hormonal changes. Testosterone decreases before and immediately following birth. This hormonal change is natural and linked with increased caregiving and child-related tasks, but it can also play a role in postnatal depression. Dads under 25 years of age are more likely to have postnatal depression than older fathers.
  • Not having a positive male role model.
  • Lack of support from family and friends.
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby. 

The Effects of Paternal Depression and Anxiety 

They're substantial! According to a study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, fathers with pre-or postnatal depression or anxiety create a higher risk of behavioral problems in preschool-age children, especially sons.

depressed and anxious child

In general, their children have more physical and mental health problems growing up. Research also suggests that a depressed father has children at risk for developmental delays.

Depressed fathers tend to spank their children more often and to play, read, and sing to them less frequently. We find that in depressed and anxious dads: bonding goes down. They pay less attention to the baby's health. There's a higher risk of behavior problems in preschool children.

Children have more physical and mental health problems.

Symptoms of Paternal Depression 

We've discussed the negative consequences, but what about symptoms in depressed dads? Fathers often show fewer outward emotional expressions of depression than their counterparts. They cry less often. They are more likely to be irritable, impulsive, and unable to find enjoyment in anything.

They're also more likely to engage in substance abuse, resort to domestic violence and discourage their wives from breastfeeding. Common symptoms of paternal depression include:

  • anger, outbursts, and violent behavior
  • generally low motivation
  • chronic irritability
  • changes in appetite
  • loss of libido
  • insomnia or poor sleep patterns
  • withdrawal from family life and relationships
  • an increase in risk-taking behaviors including turning to alcohol and prescription drugs
  • poor concentration
  • feeling worthless as a father
  • tiredness, headaches, stomachaches, pain, and digestive issues
  • suicidal ideation
  • burying themselves in their work 

Symptoms of Paternal Anxiety 

anxiety in new father

Remember, depression and anxiety often overlap and so do their symptoms. Some common anxiety symptoms include:

  • a fear of impending doom
  • difficulty focusing
  • an onset or increase in panic attacks
  • fearful repetitive thoughts
  • excessive worry about life
  • becoming withdrawn from relationships
  • agitation, restlessness and muscle tension
  • dizziness or vertigo 

Treatment for Depression or Anxiety 

We've already discussed why treatment is imperative. It affects bonding, family dynamics, and your child's development both mentally and physically. If you have had any of these depressive or anxiety symptoms for more than two weeks, you need to seek help, and the sooner, the better.

This is sometimes more difficult for men than for women. Guys are often brought up to believe that experiencing mental health difficulties is a weakness. But this stigma is simply a false conception of masculinity. Mental illness is not your fault, and you don't have to power through it alone.

There is strength and courage in seeking help. Having depression or anxiety doesn't mean that you're a bad parent or don't have it together. Support is available, and by taking advantage of it, you're taking care of your baby and your partner.

Remember that untreated depression or anxiety affects the entire family.

It All Starts With Talking 

Talk with your partner and tell her exactly what you're going through, the good, bad, and ugly. After all, you're a team, and you wouldn't want her to have to go through something like that alone.

anxious couple talking

Also, talk to a healthcare professional, whether your family doctor, your baby's doctor, or a mental health care provider. They are familiar with the kind of challenges that expectant parents go through, and they can help.

They may recommend psychotherapy or talk therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be particularly effective. They may also recommend medication that works on the mind, mood, and behavior.

If you are suffering from marital difficulties, couples therapy may be recommended for dealing with your feelings.

It's also an excellent resource to talk to other new dads that you know. Men aren't often encouraged to share their emotional experiences, but the rewards can be immense. The more men talk about mutual experiences, the more they realize they have shared challenges and the more support they can offer one another. 

You will also want to keep up your exercise routine, which helps with mood. And you may consider alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, massage, or biofeedback. All of these are effective.

Finally, Postpartum Support International (PSI) can be a valuable resource. They provide online support resources, a helpline, and a monthly support group for dads.

A Word About Prevention 

If you are reading this blog and have been fortunate enough to have experienced little depression or anxiety, keep in mind the actions you take before and after your baby is born can help stem mental illness.

Action you Can Take Before Baby Is Born 

dad bonding with unborn baby

dad bonding with unborn baby

Get involved with your child. Talk and sing to her and read near your partner's belly so your baby will recognize your voice after birth. Take a prenatal class. Prenatal classes will help you know how to take care of a newborn and what to expect during labor and delivery.

Get social support; seek out friends, other fathers, family, and healthcare professionals who can give you good advice and encouragement on your road to fatherhood.

Talk with your partner. Let her know how you're feeling and talk about the future you imagine for your baby. Also, talk honestly about how your daily lives may change once the baby is born.

Think about the kind of father you wish to be. Think about role models you've known and your own father. What traits would you like to exhibit, and what might you do differently?

Stay involved right after the baby is born. Room with your partner and newborn till it's time to take the baby home.

Share the responsibilities of taking care of the baby. Take turns feeding, changing, and comforting the baby. Be sure to pull your weight without being a Superman.

Play a lot. Many women tend to provide more low-key interaction with their children, and dad is often the fun guy, providing noisier and more vigorous activities. Both styles are great. The important thing is just to play.

Be affectionate with your partner. The closest bond with your baby comes from having a close bond with your partner. Take time for hugs, kisses, and sharing a laugh. Stay connected as you grow into your new routine. Always continue to talk about the changes you're going through and what's on your mind.

About the author 

Dan Sperling

I'm the proud father of two great children. They are grown up now, and although I would have preferred to be a stay-at-home dad, I had to work. Luckily, I could work out of my home so I was around a lot. I ran a video production company, had a couple of great guys working with me and it allowed me to be around the children a lot. I was the "fun guy" for my kids and fathering was something I just took to.
When my daughter became pregnant, I was glad to see my son-in-law was doing everything right--or as good as it gets--we're always winging it, right? It got me thinking that so many dads would like to be more emotionally involved and knowledgeable when it comes to their wives' pregnancy and the first year of their children's lives.

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