On Psychology

Jewish World Review May 11, 2000 / 6 Iyar, 5760

Dr. Wade Horn

How Dads Can Deal With the New-Baby Blues

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Q: I have heard about postpartum blues for new moms. Can dads get postpartum blues, too? If so, what are the signs, and how can a dad successfully cope with these feelings?

A: Following the birth of a baby, many women experience a period of moodiness commonly referred to as postpartum blues or the "baby blues." The symptoms of postpartum blues include episodes of mild teariness, anger, sleeplessness, anxiety or moodiness mixed with periods of joy and tranquility. Up to 80 percent of all new mothers experience at least some postpartum blues.

My own wife's form of postpartum blues was fretting continuously over the health of our first born. Despite all my attempts to reassure her that everything was just fine, she went through episodes convinced our daughter was developing a fever.

One morning, she became so frantic she ran out into the street, hailed a cab and rushed our daughter to the pediatrician -- where our infant daughter was quickly pronounced perfectly healthy. It was only after she arrived back home via another (expensive) taxi ride that she saw I had left the family car, just in case she needed it, parked on the street in front of the house, right next to where she had hailed her the first taxi. It was 10 years before she had the nerve to tell me about that little episode.

Postpartum blues usually dissipate within the first 10 days of motherhood. Fathers can help by being supportive and understanding of their wives during this emotional period. This means doing a lot of listening and hand holding, not necessarily problem-solving. This can be difficult for fathers, because men tend to be solution finders.

The worst thing a father can do is tell his wife to shape up or to withdraw from her. If you must "do something," do more household chores. Remember: What your wife needs most of all, is to hear you say you love her.

In about 20 percent of women, postpartum blues transform into depression. The onset of postpartum depression usually comes two to eight weeks after the birth of the baby, and can last two weeks to a year or longer. Symptoms include crying, unremitting despair, insomnia, lack of interest in ordinary activities, loss of appetite, anxiety, anger, and suicidal urges.

Needless to say, postpartum depression is a different kettle of fish than the baby blues. If untreated, the depression can deepen and cause terrible problems for the mother, the baby and the father. Treatment often involves medication and therapy.

But what about fathers? Can men suffer from postpartum blues and depression, too?

The answer is: yes. Although discussions of postpartum blues usually are geared toward women, many men also get the blues after the birth of their child.

Trakdata In contrast to mothers, however, new fathers' blues are not hormonally based. Rather, the new-father blues are more commonly related to feeling left out because of the amount of attention his wife is giving to their newborn, worries about being able to provide adequately for his suddenly larger family, or difficulty coming to terms with the reality of his changing life.

Although the symptoms of the new-father blues can be much the same as those experienced by women, including sadness, anxiety, anger, and mood swings, fathers often react to those feelings somewhat differently. Two typical male reactions are to throw themselves into work outside the home, especially if they are worried about finances, or to start going out "with the guys" every night.

These reactions tend to make things worse. They only serve to isolate the father even further from his wife and newborn and make him unavailable to support the mother if she is having her own difficulties with the baby blues. Also, going out drinking with the guys, especially if they are single, is a fast track to trouble with a capital T.

The key to coping successfully with the new-father blues is to get involved right away with the care of your newborn. In fact, one study found the less new fathers interacted with their newborns, the more likely it was they would later develop the new-father blues. By interacting with their newborns, it seems, new fathers both learn that they are not as inadequate as they feared and develop strong attachments to their newborns.

It also helps to get some rest (yeah, right), and take occasional breaks from parenting, even if only for an hour or two, with either your wife or other new dads with whom you can swap fatherhood "war stories."

Occasionally, just as with women, the new-father blues can transform into depression. This typically occurs with inexperienced and ill-prepared fathers. One study found a quarter of inexperienced fathers suffered from clinical depression, which affected their ability to work, sleep, and provide support for the mother and newborn.

If you are a new father experiencing a bout of the baby blues, keep in mind that your feelings are not as uncommon as you might think. Keep in mind also that these feelings are likely to be temporary. So hang in there. Pretty soon, you'll be a veteran dad, giving all kinds of helpful advice to the next crop of anxious, expectant dads.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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© 2000, Dr. Wade F. Horn