What about #Patrescence?

Having a child is a profound change in your partner’s life, too

Chrissy Teigen (Instagram)

Just as new parenthood is a profound transition for mothers, the same is true for their partners. They too are facing the excitement and shock of entering a new era of their lives. Even though they haven’t gone through pregnancy and childbirth, their lives are now likely being disrupted in similar ways: less sleep, less exercise, less sex, less downtime, more responsibility, and more financial pressure. Change is stressful for most people, and having a child is a profound change in your partner’s life, too.

If you’ve carried the pregnancy, and if you’re now breastfeeding, you and your baby have been physically connected — your partner hasn’t been a part of that. Now that the baby is here, your partner may have been expecting to get some of you back — emotionally and physically — but instead, much of your attention is probably going to the baby.

While there has been less research on postpartum depression in partners, some studies suggest that roughly 4–10 percent of fathers may experience depression in the first year after their child’s birth (compared to 10–15% of mothers.) Rates are highest in the first three to six months after the baby is born, and those with a history of depression may be at higher risk.

Research has not yet clarified if there is a hormonal component to postpartum depression in partners. Some studies suggest that testosterone levels drop in new dads, and research has shown this pattern in other animal species who also parent in pairs, like mice, hamsters, and gerbils. Animal studies show that this decrease in testosterone may be correlated with fathers being less aggressive toward their young and more invested in spending time with them. But extrapolations from animal studies to humans aren’t perfect. In human fathers, it’s unclear if and how hormonal factors may be related to feelings of depression.

As is the case in women, emotional shifts can always be looked at from a biological perspective, and we have a lot to learn about how changes in the body and brain impact our feelings overall for both men and women. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that just like mothers, fathers may have a history of depression that preexists parenthood. Some studies suggest that 9% of men overall in the United States experience daily feelings of depression or anxiety.

There is a growing community of conversation and support for fathers and partners who are experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety in the postpartum period, and a general widening of the conversation about the emotional transition to fatherhood. I also think that many fathers, and families overall, would benefit if paternity/partner leave were more accessible so that partners could have more time at home to bond with their babies, help in their care and in their partner’s transition, and have more personal time to rest and adjust. Check out this brief on paternity leave from the US Department of Laborand this important article by Liza Mundy in The Atlantic.

Here are some other great resources:

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