According to the American Psychiatric
Association, major depression with postpartum
onset occurs in eight to 12 percent of women
within the first nine weeks postpartum. Symptoms
ranging from insomnia and abnormal eating patterns
to suicidal thoughts characterize this less
common, more severe form of postpartum depression.
If your spouse experiences this illness, it's
nothing to be ashamed of, but it is vital that you
consult with her physician. Drug therapy and/or
psychotherapy may be required to return her to
Many explanations for the baby blues and true
major depression with postpartum onset have been
offered. One theory holds that the wild hormone
fluctuations precipitated by pregnancy and
delivery play havoc with a woman’s psychological
health. And weaning, which also alters hormone
levels, is known to trigger the blues.
As a brand new father, you may also experience
similar symptoms of anxiety or the blues. And
adoptive fathers and mothers have also reported
experiencing depression on occasion, so it’s
likely that there is more to the phenomenon than
can be fully explained by hormonal changes in the
Many other possible
causes of these blues have been proposed. Here are
just a few:
A feeling of anticlimax.
After all that preparation, excitement and
planning, the big day is now come and gone.
A shift from the spotlight to the background.
As attention is refocused from the expectant
parents to the newborn, you’re no longer the
center of attention.
Mothers are unlikely to have a monopoly on this
one. Both parents have been keyed up for days if
not weeks. Likewise, they’re now losing sleep on
a regular basis as the newborn demands to be fed
at all hours. Colic, if it occurs, only makes
Feelings of inadequacy.
Most first-time parents worry, at least a little,
that they aren’t properly qualified. They worry
that they’ll make mistakes, or won’t know what
What can you do to
improve your wife’s mood and boost your own?
Let her know that she’s still important to you.
She may feel a little neglected, so go out of your
way to show her you care. Bring her flowers, ask
her what you can do to lighten her load, or plan a
night away from the baby for just the two of you.
Offer to wake for your
fair share of wee-hours feedings. If your wife is
breast-feeding, have her pump and store breast
milk for this purpose. This will only work, of
course, with your wife’s cooperation. She may
resist introducing the baby to the bottle too
soon. Don’t force the issue, just be ready to be
flexible—good advice in general once you become
And understand that no
new parent feels fully qualified for the job.
fact that you’re concerned about your parenting
skills probably means you’re on the right track
and will do fine. Babies are incredibly resilient
and forgiving. As long as you’re able to provide
plenty of love, the rest is details. Relax.
Then there’s your
own mental health. Men suffer from postpartum
blues, too. Worries ranging from the financial to
the sexual can inspire anxiety and depression in
new and expectant fathers. Some men feel displaced
by the newborn, and consequently feel guilty about
resenting their own offspring. Don’t berate
yourself. You’re not alone. You’ve got a lot
of adjusting to do. As with any major change, this
one will require some time.
Your best bet for
avoiding feelings of jealousy or resentment,
is to pitch in and get involved in every aspect of
your infant’s care from the get-go. Change those
diapers. Give that baby bath. Burp her and rock
her and help with her clothing changes. When
appropriate, wake up in the middle of the night to
share feeding duties. And remember that in spite
of your feelings that things will never be the
same, you will all eventually accommodate to the
new family dynamic. Your sex life will eventually
return to normal. One fine day you’ll get to
sleep through the night again.
And before you know
it, you’ll be losing sleep all over again
worrying when he’ll have the car home, or
whether or not she’ll be all right at college.
Enjoy your tiny baby
while you have the chance. As painful as this time
can be, one day you’ll look back and wonder how
it all flew by so fast.
Kiefer is a free-lance writer living in
Indianapolis with his wife and two young sons.
Born in New Jersey some 40 years ago, Dale was
raised in Kentucky, where he spent most of his
life, graduating from the University of Kentucky
with a degree in Biological Sciences. He has
been a reporter and free-lance journalist, writing
for numerous publications, including the Pulitzer
Prize-winning Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and
national magazines such as Writer's Digest. He has
lived and worked in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and
the Greater New York area in the recent past, but
hopes to settle for a while in central Indiana.
Dale finds that the adventure of raising two sons
is both profoundly rewarding and intensely
challenging. Becoming a father and a journalist
forever changed and enriched Dale's life, and he
looks forward to sharing his insights with
others. In his spare time, Dale enjoys
skiing, in-line skating, soccer, travel, fiction
writing, exploring New York City, singing and
photography. Most of all, he enjoys sharing as
much time as possible with his wife and sons.