Postpartum Depression Affects Women & Men

Postpartum depression is many different things, not just one thing. Postpartum depression can affect dads just as it can affect moms and it can visit adoptive parents, not just birth parents. Postpartum depression is never just about the hormones of pregnancy and childbirth.

Did you know that American men get postpartum depression nearly as often as women? The incidence rate for postpartum depression is 14% for women who give birth, 10% for dads and somewhere around 15 % for adoptive moms (which is not statistically different from the 14% for birthing moms). That’s a lot of postpartum depression going on after bringing home baby. And it wasn’t always that way. Nor are the figures that high everywhere in the world.

Postpartum depression is preventable

Depression is on the rise in our culture and increasing worldwide wherever countries and cultures start to take on American values and habits. But depression can be prevented. And so can postpartum depression. Far from a biological given, the inevitable consequence of hormonal changes, depression can happen to anyone facing the massive emotional and social changes of bringing home baby – birth parents, adoptive parents, gay and lesbian parents as well as straight parents.

Men and women experience emotions in response to life, and all emotions are biochemical and neurological events. Men and women in intimate partnerships conceive new life together and journey into the great life transition of parenthood. Perhaps most astonishingly, some men experience a kind of psychosomatic pregnancy called couvade. Many normal, non-psychotic Western men, up to 46% by some estimates, experience somatic symptoms, real physical discomforts that coincide with pregnancy of their partners. Physical symptoms can include more frequent and serious colds, unintentional weight gain, numerous gastrointestinal discomforts, irritability, nervousness, inability to concentrate, headaches, restlessness, excessive fatigue and insomnia. And what may be more surprising to our Western way of thinking, these physical changes, brought on by emotional changes, can trigger hormonal changes, as well. Although some researchers think these emotionally triggered hormonal changes prepare men for roles as involved fathers, human hormones are just one small part of our emotional experience.

Identify your risk factors

If you are pregnant and expecting a baby, or expecting to bring a baby into your life through adoption, you have probably read about postpartum depression and wonder if it could happen to you. Research into depression, anxiety and psychosis over the past 50+ years reveals predictable cognitive risk factors for depression. These risk factors involve negative habits of thought that generate negative mood states and predictable interpersonal risk factors – habits of relating – that cause and maintain negative mood states. Bringing home a baby has a way of magnifying all the habits of thought and relating that put people at risk for depression. The cognitive risk factors include:

  • Global cognitive style (you tend to “catastrophize”)
  • Difficulty identifying & tolerating ambiguity
  • External locus of control & internalizing blame
  • Ruminative coping style (you worry a lot)

The interpersonal risk factors include:

  • Excessive reassurance seeking
  • Discounting reassurance received
  • Negative feedback seeking
  • Turning fear into anger
  • Avoidant coping style (you avoid conflict & then it blows up)

Learn skills to manage your risk factors

If you’ve ever been depressed or you tend to struggle with anxiety, if you’re concerned about the postpartum period and how you might react, Dr. Sara can help. She has been studying postpartum depression – the transition to parenthood – in men and women, birthparents and adoptive ones, for three decades. She is the author of After The Stork: The Couple’s Guide to Preventing and Overcoming Postpartum Depression and is in the process of developing an online course to go with it. Go to AfterTheStork.com to learn more.

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