It's not just a mommy problem
The decision made by the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy to miss opening day so he could attend the birth of his son has placed increased focus on paternity leave for dads. Guess what? Some sports talk show hosts made idiots of themselves by overreacting and making statements without thinking about their consequences (shocking, I know).
Just in time, a new study released online in Pediatrics (the journal of the AAP) describes the risk of depression in fathers of young children (0-5). They started following males in adolescence and followed them for 23 years using a depression scale to document their level of depression.
The scales asked some fairly pointed questions regarding depression. Here are some examples:
- Were you were bothered by things that do not usually bother you?
- Did you feel depressed?
- Did you feel you were too tired to do things?
- Did you not enjoy life?
- Did you feel that people disliked you?
I found the results very interesting:
During the first 5 years of their child’s lives, fathers showed a 68 percent increase in depressive symptoms.
Does this surprise you or not?
While the study did not specifically describe the rate of depression in the immediate period after the baby was born, I would suspect that many of these depressive symptoms began to emerge during that time. I have done this new parenting thing a few times (3 times in 5 years). Having a new baby in the house is incredibly exciting and brings so much unspeakable joy. However, that joy comes with many changes.
I never felt that my symptoms rose to the level of depression but there were, at times, feelings of sadness and loss. Let’s walk through some of the reasons and some potential solutions.
Loss of routine
I am a man of routine and consistency.I like waking up, having a cup of coffee, reading and getting ready to go to work. Staying home with my wife for a week after our babies were born was very important to me but I did start to miss my routine.
Try to keep some semblance of your normal routine if possible. Remember that your sleep at night will likely be broken up (I was always the water boy for my breastfeeding wife and the post-feed burper and rocker) so you might want to get to bed earlier than normal so you can keep your morning routine in some form or fashion.
Loss of autonomy
When you got married you might have realized that your decisions were no longer just about yourself anymore. For me, having a baby is that feeling, on steroids. You suddenly feel guilty for wanting to do anything for yourself anymore as if in some way you will miss something or will be needed and not be there.
It sounds like a line from a self-help book, but remember that in order to be a good provider, you have to take care of yourself to some degree first. Find some time to do something by and for yourself at least every few days. For you, that might look like going for a run or going to read a book at Starbucks. But, whatever it is, take a little time for yourself.
Loss of intimacy
Yes, I do mean in the physical way (those OBs and their rules - seriously follow those rules). But, it’s much more than that. All of the sudden, you realize that those deep conversations you had with your wife (that you might not have thought were important) are less frequent. You are both tired and have a singular focus that tends to dominate your conversations (When was the last feed? Did I start on the left or right side last time? Is this yellow, runny stool normal?)
Try to find the time and energy to start one deep conversation per day. One great conversation starter in this time period can be: “How are you doing with all of this?” Don’t settle for, “Fine.” Ask deeper questions. Then, after you’ve taken the time to hear mom out, you’ll probably get a chance to share some things yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
The overlying concern for these feelings is that you might begin to feel guilty about having them. You know in your brain that this time is supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life. This tension is common and normal. It might be helpful to seek out other fathers whose advice you feel you can trust to talk through it. They may have more specific advice that will work better for you. The important thing is to resist the urge to tough it out and do it on your own.
Ultimately, you may feel that you are passing over from feeling a little down to actually feeling depressed. If you have concerns about this, it’s best to seek out professional help from your doctor or a counselor.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician at the Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinic on 2755 Miller Ave. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his three young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.