Study estimates 10 per cent of new fathers get depressed

Moms aren’t the only ones who can get the blues when a new baby joins the family.

TORONTO — Moms aren’t the only ones who can get the blues when a new baby joins the family.

About 10 per cent of fathers experience prenatal or postpartum depression, a new analysis of studies suggests.

The review in the Journal of the American Medical Association, published Tuesday, pulls together data from 43 studies involving more than 28,000 participants.

It puts the overall estimate of paternal depression at 10.4 per cent, compared to an estimated prevalence of 4.8 per cent for men in the general population.

The period three to six months after the baby’s birth appears to be the toughest time, showing a rate of depression of 25 per cent — compared to just 7.7 per cent in the first three months.

“They come home and everybody’s celebrating, the neighbours, the friends, families. It’s the first baby and everyone’s all excited,” says Dr. Andre Lalonde, executive vice-president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

But Lalonde, who was not involved in the study, says these new dads find their lives have changed completely and they’re often up at night.

“I speak to young people in my office and they tell me this same thing. Young men — that it’s a real challenge at the end of two months.

“They’re sort of looking at the mirror and saying ‘what did I do here?’ and so they’re not prepared for this.”

Cindy-Lee Dennis, an associate professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Toronto, says studies indicate 13 per cent of mothers will experience postpartum depression within the first 12 weeks.

Research suggests that one of the biggest risk factors for fathers to develop postpartum depression is if the mother already has it, she said.

“It’s very challenging caring for children, and now we see fathers participating in childcare activities — so they’re experiencing the stress as well, and the fatigue,” said Dennis, who wasn’t involved in this meta-analysis, but who has done her own research on postpartum depression.

“We’re also finding that families as a whole are lacking support, so if the mother lacks support, typically the father lacks support as well.”

And without help, it’s more difficult to get the proper amount of sleep, Dennis said, adding that less than six hours of sleep in a 24-hour period could place a new mom or dad at risk for depression.

The analysis by researchers at the Eastern Virginia Medical School involved studies from 16 countries, and found that men in the United States experience depression at marginally higher rates than do fathers internationally.

“(This is) a finding that bears further investigation vis-a-vis varying social norms and postpartum work practices cross-nationally,” write co-authors James Paulson and Sharnail Bazemore.

They found a moderate correlation between depression in fathers and mothers.

“The observation that expecting and new fathers disproportionately experience depression suggests that more efforts should be made to improve screening and referral, particularly in light of the mounting evidence that early paternal depression may have substantial emotional, behavioural and developmental effects on children,” the authors write.

They suggest that prevention and intervention efforts for depression in parents might be focused on couples and families, rather than the individual.

Lalonde says there should be postpartum classes to teach mothers and fathers about parenting.

“It changes your life completely and you know, people have not been trained properly in parenting,” he said Tuesday from San Francisco, where he was attending a conference for obstetricians.

“We need more home visits by health professionals when they visit both the mother and the father.”

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