The Secret Sadness That Can Strike New Dads
Surprising research shows that postpartum depression is not limited to moms.
Over the last few years, well-known moms such as Chrissy Teigen, Brooke Shields, and Courtney Cox have spoken out about their struggles with postpartum depression (PPD), letting women across the country know they’re not alone if they feel overwhelmed, sad, and disconnected in the months after giving birth.
But what about the dads?
Researchers have recently recognized that fathers, too, can experience an emotional crash when there’s a new baby in the house (one study estimated about 10 percent of dads experience PPD). Now, researchers at the University of Southern California have zeroed in on the reason: Blame it on testosterone. Just like moms, dads can experience major hormonal swings before and after a baby is born, with the highs and lows of their testosterone levels affecting their mood and their ability to care for their baby and partner.
The study, which looked at 149 couples and was published last week in the journal Hormones and Behavior, showed that dads are most at risk for developing PPD if they experience a drop in their testosterone levels within nine months after their baby is born. The lower their testosterone dropped, the more depressed they felt.
“We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy,” said Darby Saxbe, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at USC, and lead author of the study. “We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms. We are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick.”
Ironically, there is a bright side to this. The study found that the women whose partners had lower levels of testosterone in the postpartum period reported more satisfaction with their relationship and were less likely to suffer PPD themselves. The reasons are unclear, but Saxbe suggested, “It may be that the fathers with lower testosterone were spending more time caring for the baby or that they had hormone profiles that were more synced up with mothers.”
Saxbe cautions that taking testosterone supplements is not the answer to paternal PPD—especially since the study found that the men who had surges in their testosterone levels after the baby was born were more likely to act hostile and aggressive towards their partner.
Instead, dads can treat their PPD by getting adequate sleep and exercise, both of which can improve mood and even out hormone levels. Talking to a therapist can also help, as well as reaching out to friends and family for support.