The partners of pregnant women can often feel overlooked during the pregnancy, particularly at ante-natal appointments (if they are even allowed time off work to attend, given that obstetric/midwifery practices are usually only open during working hours), and with regard to the majority of decisions made during the pregnancy.
This can leave the new father feeling unimportant, disconnected from the baby, and as though their opinions aren’t valuable during this time of high excitement, and yes, high stress.
These feelings can then extend into the period after birth: again, the focus of child health nurses, midwives, and paediatricians is often on the mother’s health and relationship with the baby, and if the father has returned to work after a short stint of paternity leave, it can be difficult for him to attend the appointments and thus feel more included and involved in these sessions.
Because it is now well-understood that there are extra stressors, responsibilities and fatigue factors for a new mother, both antenatally (during pregnancy), and postnatally (after the birth), medical staff, midwives, child health nurses and others in the medical settings are looking out for signs of depression, anxiety and stress in the mothers.
What about the Fathers?
But what about the fathers? They are usually not at many of these appointments, and have to return to work soon after the baby’s birth. So therefore they are not in as close contact with these helping professionals who could otherwise be on the lookout for issues.
So what do you do if you’re a new father, struggling to adjust to the demands of parenthood? You may be feeling like you just have no idea what to do; that you aren’t functioning well due to lack of sleep; are having trouble communicating with your partner, whose focus is now on the baby; or experiencing other distressing feelings.
First of all, it’s important to note that feelings like these are common, and it IS OKAY to experience them! It is also okay to admit it to a GP, to talk about it with your mates, to joke about it with your own dad, and to hope that someday, you might get to sleep in past 7am again!
These feelings can be uncomfortable to say the least; however it is important to give yourself some time to grieve for the losses/changes in your life (such as less time with mates, less focus/time for work, the difference in your relationship with your partner etc). Most dads are likely to experience some moments/periods of sadness during the first few weeks or months after the birth of their child. This grief can feel like being weighed down with sadness, or take forms of preoccupation, excessive thoughtfulness (getting caught up in and stuck in your thoughts about these losses), or irritability and having little patience with others.
So give yourself a break, acknowledge that there have been (or will be if your partner is still pregnant) some major changes happening in both your lives, and allow yourself some space and the opportunity to grieve for the losses that have occurred.
If a new father has had difficulty coming to terms with these feelings, and remains silent about them, denying the natural grieving process, there can be significant issues – particularly if you throw in some feelings of shame and guilt about having these confusing emotions, as well as guilt about not feeling happy during this “happy period” of having a newborn baby! By keeping these thoughts and feelings hidden away, the emotion is still likely to make its way out, but in another form; such as anger, substance use, social withdrawal, depression or anxiety.
Depression in Dads
Research shows that one in twenty fathers are now diagnosed with postnatal depression each year in Australia (Deloitte, 2012) – and this is just an estimate; the total number may be greater, with many more men struggling without seeking a diagnosis or support.
Beyond Blue’s website has a fantastic plain-English list of signs and symptoms of depression (not specifically for the perinatal period, but the symptoms are the same) that I have included below. If you think any or many of these are relevant to you, it would be worthwhile talking to your GP about how you’re travelling, or making an appointment with a Psychologist or Counsellor for support and help.
- Not going out anymore;
- not getting things done at work/school;
- withdrawing from close family and friends;
- relying on alcohol and sedatives;
- Not doing usual enjoyable activities;
- Unable to concentrate.
- Lacking in confidence;
- “I’m a failure”;
- “It’s my fault”;
- “Nothing good ever happens to me”;
- “I’m worthless”;
- “Life’s not worth living”;
- “People would be better off without me”.
- tired all the time;
- sick and run down;
- headaches and muscle pains;
- churning gut;
- sleep problems;
- loss or change of appetite;
- significant weight loss or gain.
The Impacts of Depression in New Fathers
There are many significant impacts of paternal depression (ie depression in the father), such as an impact on their own interpersonal, recreational and work functioning, impacts on the infant’s development and the child’s behaviour in the adolescent years, in addition to the effects of depression making it difficult for the father to support the mother and any issues that she may be struggling with.
In addition to counselling and support from your GP, there are options such as calling the Post-and Antenatal Depression Line (PANDA) on 1300 726 306, joining a local Men’s Group, or checking out the How is Dad Going? Website.
If you are experiencing any unsettling feelings that continue beyond the short-term, or can tick off a number of signs listed above, it will be helpful for you, your child, and your partner, to talk about them – because all these feelings, whilst confusing and unwanted, are okay and perfectly normal. Also, there is help available to help you feel yourself again (although I still can’t promise you that sleep-in…!).
Author: Lauren Burrow, B Psych (Hons), Grad Cert Health Promotion.
Lauren Burrow is a Brisbane Psychologist, endeavouring to provide her clients with a welcoming, reassuring and non-judgmental experience. She assists her clients to identify helpful strategies to overcome their issues, to broaden their existing skills in coping and functioning, and provides them with psycho-education to assist with understanding and managing the symptoms they are struggling with.
To make an appointment with Registered Psychologist Lauren Burrow, freecall 1800 877 924 or book online today.