Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common form of major depressive disorder (MDD) that can develop after the birth of a child.
About one in every seven women develop postpartum depression after giving birth. Although postpartum depression is most common in women, it also affects men, with many new fathers experiencing some degree of depression after the arrival of a child.
Like other forms of depression, postpartum depression can have an effect on just about every aspect of your life. It can result in low moods, reduced pleasure from hobbies and even issues with sleep, concentration and your physical health.
Below, we’ve explained how postpartum depression can affect men, as well as the major signs you may notice if you’re becoming depressed after having a child.
We’ve also discussed the treatment options that are available for postpartum depression, from antidepressants to therapy, lifestyle changes and new habits.
Postpartum depression is a form of depression that develops after childbirth. It’s longer-lasting than the “baby blues” that many women experience after giving birth and has a greater impact on a person’s mental health and ability to function.
Experts think that a variety of factors play a role in postpartum depression in women, including the hormonal, physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy and childbirth.
While PPD is most common in women, it also affects men. In fact, research suggests that eight to 10 percent of fathers develop clinically significant signs of depression after their partner gives birth. When PPD occurs in men, it’s referred to as paternal postpartum depression.
As a new father, postpartum depression can have a significant impact on the way that you think, feel and behave. Common symptoms of postpartum depression in men include:
Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness or being empty. These may occur on a daily or near-daily basis and persist throughout most of the day. Some signs of a sad mood may be visible to other people.
Changes in appetite, eating habits and weight. You may feel less interested in eating, or may have a stronger appetite than normal. This change in your appetite and eating habits may result in weight loss or weight gain.
Reduced feelings of pleasure from or interest in hobbies. Activities and hobbies that you normally enjoy may no longer seem interesting or pleasurable. You may find it hard to feel pleasure at all.
A feeling that you’re worthless, guilty or that you can’t be helped. You may feel like no person or event can help you to feel better. Some people with depression experience delusional feelings of guilt or responsibility.
Difficulty focusing, remembering things or making decisions. You might find it difficult to concentrate on mentally demanding tasks or remember information. Even simple, everyday decisions might seem more challenging and difficult to make.
Slowed or accelerated speech and/or movement. You may notice that your speech or movement is slower than normal, or that you talk quickly and feel restless. Other people may notice these changes.
Difficulty sleeping or waking up during the day. When depressed, you may develop insomnia (difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (a condition in which you feel an excessive need to sleep).
Reduced energy and a general feeling of fatigue. You might feel fatigued or as if you have no energy on a daily or near-daily basis. These symptoms may persist even with sleep or the use of stimulants such as caffeine.
Aches, pains and other physical symptoms. You might develop soreness, cramps or headaches without an obvious cause. Some people with depression also have digestive issues that don’t improve with treatment.
Thoughts of death or suicide. You may experience recurrent thoughts involving death or suicide. Talk to your healthcare provider or seek emergency help if you have severe or detailed thoughts involving suicidal behavior or planning.
It’s normal to deal with some of these symptoms from time to time, and occasionally feeling sad or uninterested in certain activities doesn’t necessarily mean that you have paternal postpartum depression.
To diagnose clinical depression, mental health professionals look for several symptoms (usually five or more) that occur on a daily or near-daily basis for at least two weeks and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in your daily life.
Researchers aren’t aware of precisely what causes postpartum depression, whether in women or in men. Current research suggests that a range of factors, including genes, hormones and social life stressors are all involved in the development of this form of depression.
Experts have long believed that hormone levels play a role in postpartum depression in women, and an increasing amount of research suggests that they may also be involved in depression in dads.
Certain biological and environmental factors may increase your risk of feeling depressed after your partner gives birth. Risk factors for developing postpartum depression include:
A personal or family history of depression. Depression is at least partly genetic. You may have a higher risk of developing paternal postpartum depression if you’ve suffered from depression before or have a family member with a history of depression.
Stress from becoming a parent. Being a parent is a stressful experience. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed by the responsibilities of becoming a parent, it may contribute to the development of depression. Our guide to parenting with depression goes into more detail.
Unintended pregnancy. You may be more likely to develop depressive symptoms after your partner gives birth if you didn’t originally plan to have a child, or if you had a child at an earlier time in your life than expected.
Relationship issues. Having a child is a major life change, and it may amplify problems that already exist in your relationship with your partner. When these problems are severe or persistent, they might contribute to depression.
Maternal depression. Postpartum depression is very common in women. If your partner begins to feel depressed after giving birth, you may also have a higher risk of developing depression symptoms.
Financial difficulties. Poverty is a known risk factor for depression. Having a child may put a strain on your personal finances, contribute to money-related anxiety and increase your risk of developing depression.
Feelings of exclusion from mother-infant bonding. Having a child can have a major impact on the dynamics of your relationship. As your partner’s focus moves towards your child, you may feel excluded from bonding.
Lack of social support. Positive support from friends and family members plays a key role in providing parents with confidence and competence. You may have a higher risk of developing depression if you and/or your partner lack support from other people.
Sleep deprivation. Being a parent often takes a serious toll on your sleep, especially if your child is young. Research shows a clear link between acute sleep deprivation (short-term lack of sleep) and the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Like other forms of depression, male postpartum depression is treatable. Unfortunately, many men with postpartum depression symptoms never seek treatment, either because of a lack of awareness or out of a perception that depressive episodes are a normal part of life.
If you think you might have postpartum depression, consider reaching out to a licensed mental health provider for assistance.
You can do this by letting your primary care provider know about your symptoms and asking for a mental health referral, or by contacting a mental health provider locally. You can also connect with a licensed psychiatry provider from home using our online psychiatry service.
Depending on the type and severity of your depression symptoms, your mental health provider may recommend making changes to your habits and daily lifestyle, taking part in therapy, using antidepressants or a combination of approaches.
If you’re a recent father with mild symptoms of depression that come and go, making changes to your habits and lifestyle may help you to maintain a positive mood while you deal with the stress of becoming a parent.
Depression often improves with regular exercise, good sleep and spending time with friends and family members.
These aren’t always easy to get when you’re a new parent, so it’s important to be realistic when it comes to your goals. Even a short walk around your neighborhood or quick workout can have a positive impact on how you feel.
Our list of self-help strategies for depression shares simple but effective techniques that you can use to deal with some of your symptoms.
If you feel overwhelmed by juggling fatherhood and your career, consider asking your employer for time off. Paternity leave policies vary from employer to employer — your HR department will be able to provide you with information about your options.
Healthy habits and changes to your lifestyle can help to make mild depression less severe, but they may not be enough if you have serious or persistent symptoms.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves talking to a licensed mental health provider about how you feel and what you experience as a new parent. As part of psychotherapy, you’ll learn about identifying and changing the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to depression.
Our full guide to therapy for depression provides more information about how therapy works as a form of treatment for depression and anxiety symptoms.
If you have clinically significant depression, your mental health provider may suggest taking an antidepressant.
Antidepressants are medications that reduce the severity of major depression symptoms. They work by increasing the levels of certain naturally-occurring chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that are involved in regulating your moods and behavior.
Common types of antidepressants include:
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Your healthcare provider may suggest a specific type of antidepressant based on your medical history, personal needs and the severity of your paternal depression symptoms.
Antidepressants work well for most people with depression, but they may require some time to start working. It may take two to four weeks before you feel any improvements, and symptoms such as poor sleep or concentration may improve before your moods and feelings.
Like other medications, antidepressants can potentially cause side effects. If you’re prescribed an antidepressant, make sure to use it as directed by your mental health professional.
Becoming a father is a milestone and an incredible achievement, but it can also be a stressful event. For many men, the first few months of parenthood have a significant risk of depression that shouldn’t be ignored.
If you’ve noticed some of the signs of depression in men and think you could have postpartum depression, it’s always best to seek help.
One way to seek help is to connect with a licensed psychiatry provider from your home using our online psychiatry service. You’ll receive an online evaluation, personalized treatment plan and, if appropriate, a prescription for evidence-based medication to treat your symptoms.
Another option is to receive help locally by talking to your primary care provider or meeting a licensed mental health provider.
With time, effort and ongoing care, postpartum depression can be successfully beaten, letting you enjoy the wonders of fatherhood without the negative effects of depression in your life.