Resources for professionals

PND

  • how her partner can help

  • how her partner may exacerbate PND

  • PND in fathers

Perinatal Depression

Fathers need to know that PND among mothers is common and treatable. At least 10% of women (some estimates are as high as 25%) get depression.79 Not to be confused i with the “baby blues” or postnatal psychosis.

Fathers need to know that PND symptoms (lasting more than two weeks) may be:

  • frequent episodes of crying or weepiness

  • persistent sadness

  • fatigue

  • feelings of inadequacy or guilt

  • sleep and/or appetite disturbances

  • irritability/mood changes

  • overly intense worries about the baby

  • difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering things

  • lack of interest in the baby, family or activities

  • bizarre thoughts and fears, such as obsessive thoughts of harming the infant

  • feeling overwhelmed

  • headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, numbness and hyperventilation

 

Fathers need to know that a baby needs engaged, face-to-face responsive interaction, and often. That means being talked to, played with and having eye contact with people . A depressed mother will find it difficult or impossible to give her baby all the attention they needs. Without it, their brain development will be affected. 

 

To compensate, the father (or someone) will need to be there much of the time to take that role. An infant who doesn’t get that face to face stimulation is likely to have poor developmental outcomes. Getting help for a mother who is depressed is important and needs to happen soon after symptoms arise.

A mother may not recognise PND herself or, if she recognises it, she may deny it or not want to discuss it. She may feel ashamed because she doesn’t enjoy her baby or she may feel she is a bad mother.

A depressed mother is more likely to turn to her partner for help than to any other individual, including medical professionals. Her partner will often be in the best position to notice her state of mind and recognise her depression. A father needs to know it is probably going to be up to him to start the ball rolling by encouraging her to seek help for depression. She will recover more quickly if she has good emotional support from her partner and if her partner is actively engaged with her treatment.80

 

How the father can help if his partner has PND:
  • let her talk

  • reassure her

  • take the pressure of housework and the baby off her

  • help her access professional help such as the midwife, Plunket, Maternal Mental Health, Piki Te Ora, or private counselling services

  • get support himself because living with a depressed partner is tough on him and their baby.

A father needs to know that talk therapy is often enough to treat PND. Most women who have good support get through it without drug therapy. If it persists, her GP or other professional may consider prescribing antidepressants.

 

PND can be caused or exacerbated by the baby’s father if the mother has a poor relationship with him or if she experiences him as being emotionally unavailable. A new mother needs moral and practical support with the baby and depression may follow if her partner spends a lot of time away (even if it’s because he’s at work to provide for the family) or is emotionally distant. A mother is also more likely to become depressed if her partner holds rigid, patriarchal gender-role expectations or if he is critical, coercive, verbally abusive or violent.81

 

Perinatal Depression in Fathers

Fathers need to know that three to ten percent of new fathers get depression themselves – this is about twice the average for all men in the age group. Fathers can develop depression from before the birth to several months after the birth. Symptoms for men may be similar to those for women but he may also be quicker to anger or act more aggressive. He may disappear into his work or he may step-up his drinking or other drug taking in an attempt to feel better.

 

Factors that often occur alongside depression in fathers include: his partner is depressed; unresolved difficulties in the couple relationship; not wanting to have a baby at that time; or feeling isolated and not having enough personal support.

 

What a depressed father needs to know:

  • he needs to talk to someone who will listen well

  • he shouldn’t expect too much of himself

  • he should get himself to his WellChild nurse, midwife, GP or other health professional who can get him the help he needs

 

A depressed father is less likely to read or sing to their baby and their children commonly have a smaller vocabulary at the age of two years.82 So there are significant advantages for the both the baby and the depressed father for him to get help.