Traditionally, postpartum depression has been considered a problem only for new mothers. And while we’re finally recognizing that it can affect new fathers, too, depression in them is still underdiagnosed and undertreated. Now research finds that it’s even more important to address postpartum depression in fathers—it carries a particular risk for their daughters.

As part of an ongoing study started in 1991, researchers from University of Cambridge looked at families in Southwest England that included 3,000 father-child pairs (there were slightly more girls than boys). Among other things, the researchers checked for postpartum depression in either parent…and in the children, behavioral problems (such as in conduct or hyperactivity) between age three and four and depression at age 18.

Results: Fathers’ depression did not affect child behavioral problems or a son’s risk for depression at age 18…but it did significantly increase a daughter’s likelihood of depression at age 18. The reason for the association was not clear, although the researchers suspect several factors may be involved.

Also worth noting is that earlier research by the same team had found that fathers’ postpartum depression was associated with childhood behavioral problems at ages three and a half and seven, which the researchers believe may be a possible red flag for future depression.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that as many as 25% of new fathers experience postpartum depression in the year after a child is born—a rate that rises as high as 50% when the mother is also suffering pregnancy-related depression. Men don’t experience the hormonal changes—dramatic drops in estrogen, progesterone and thyroid hormones—that happen for women after childbirth. However, men can be just as sleep-deprived and feel just as overwhelmed and anxious about caring for a newborn. In addition, new fathers can experience many things that predispose them toward depression, including…

  • problems attaching with the baby
  • not having a good male role model
  • not having social support (from family, friends)
  • marital relationship changes, such as less physical intimacy with their partner 
  • feeling excluded/jealous of the mother-child bond
  • feeling stressed over finances/work
  • lower testosterone (a natural occurrence when a man becomes a father).

The researchers conclude that these new findings further emphasize the need to address depression in both mothers and fathers as part of routine pre- and postnatal care. The AAP currently recommends that pediatricians screen both parents for depression before and after their child is born—although there is not much data on whether that is being widely done for new fathers in the US. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) that is commonly used for mothers works just as well for fathers.

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