Post-natal depression has been long recognised as an issue for mothers. But research suggests fathers can suffer from the baby blues too.
Wellington dad Neil Boothby said the baby blues came out of nowhere after his daughter – his firstborn – arrived.
“It was weird – in a word. The horrible part was not understanding why you were feeling this way – why you were basically blaming this little human for crying,” said Boothby.
Research from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study released in February reported 6.2 per cent of men experienced depression symptoms from the third trimester of pregnancy to nine months after birth.
Boothby, who lived in the UK until recently, said he was excited throughout the pregnancy, but said angst and tension surfaced days after the baby was born.
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“She would be fed and you would get her to bed and she would just cry. I was holding her in my arms and … I was never a danger or anything, but I would look at her and go ‘Why are you crying?’
“It was a good eight or nine weeks of almost running out of the house to go to work in the morning so I didn’t have to be with this attention seeking little human.”
It was the midwife who joined the dots.
“I told her the baby was crying for no reason at all and she said, ‘Neil, your child is four weeks old. She is crying because she needs something.’
“She said, ‘Have you thought about the fact you might have the baby blues? What you’re experiencing are the typical signs for the dad, but it never gets spoken about’”
It was the first he had heard of it, but identifying what was going on helped him take a step back, and tackle the same feelings when they arrived after the birth his son, three years later.
“But without that chat with the midwife, I would have had myself down as not being the fathering type.”
Paternal depression had been found to be more common in fathers who were no longer in a relationship with the child’s mother.
Antoinette Ben, executive director at Post and Ante-Natal Distress Support Wellington, estimated for every 10 women who asked her organisation for help, one father would come forward – and most were first-time dads.
“It’s quite centred around the mum and the physical act of having a baby, but it’s a huge change for both of them,” Ben said.
“It’s the feeling of being so tired and overwhelmed, you don’t necessarily feel all those wonderful feelings you expected and so you feel guilty for that. That can create even more distance. Women and men both experience that,” Ben said.
Symptoms included low mood, lethargy, feelings of inadequacy and lack of interest in things they used to enjoy.
Dr Dougal Sutherland of Victoria University School of Psychology said some dads were unable to recognise they were struggling with their mental health.
“Particularly with a first child, you’re so deeply in it with the first baby, it’s very hard to see out over the edge of the parapet, so to speak, because you’re up to your neck in nappies and bottles,” Sutherland said.
“I have certainly spoken to guys who’ve felt jealous towards the baby, they’ve felt unloved and unwanted by their partners because all the attention is focused on the baby and they’re saying ‘what about me?’”
Sutherland said socialising with other dads can help, as well as ensuring there was a wider support network behind them.
Boothby wanted new dads who were having a tough time to know they weren’t alone, and hoped they would have the courage to talk to someone.
“There is such a macho-ism around being a new father and being the protector – but it is natural and there is people out there who are aware of it.”
Plunket national service advisory manager, Karen Magrath, said while its post-natal depression support services were primarily focused on women, it also provided assistance to caregivers and whanau.
“Plunket’s message to mums and dads is that it is never too early or too late to ask for help.”