Dads Get the Baby Blues, Too

Dear Mr. Dad: I have a 2-week old baby boy, and I’m crazy about him. But I’ve suddenly started feeling really anxious, stressed, irritable, and sometimes even angry. My girlfriend says I could be suffering from male postpartum depression. I’ve never heard of guys getting postpartum depression, is it possible? If so, what can I do about it?

A: Your girlfriend is absolutely right. Most of us have heard of new moms experiencing the “baby blues,” or actual postpartum depression, but few acknowledge that paternal postpartum depression is just as real. In fact, quite a few people ridicule the idea. It’s wonderful that your girlfriend is not one of them.

According to Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist specializing in male postpartum depression, as many as 1 in 4 new dads experience the kinds of symptoms you mentioned, in the days, weeks, and even months after the birth of a child. Unfortunately, men rarely discuss their feelings or ask for help, especially during a time when they’re supposed to “be there” for the new mom. One big problem is that men and women express depression differently. Women tend to get tearful, men get angry or withdraw from their family and retreat to the office. Because depression—including the postpartum kind—is usually seen as affecting women more than men, many mental health professionals don’t recognize the symptoms, or write them off as normal adjustment to the challenges of new parenthood.
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The Joys of Sleep Deprivation

Dear Mr. Dad: Our son is three weeks old and my wife is exhausted from breastfeeding. I have to be out of the house early in the morning to make it to work, but I do help her out between 2am and 4 am. But when I try to get a little sleep before or after those hours, or if I’m too slow to wake up, she’ll say to our son things like “Daddy doesn’t care.” This hurts my feelings because I’m doing as much as I can, and I do have to put in an 8-hour day in the office. How do I handle this situation?

A: This probably won’t make you feel much better, but there are plenty of new parents out there who can totally relate to your dilemma. Fact is, being tired, sleep-deprived, and overwhelmed is a normal part of being a new parent.

I’m sure that everyone you knew tried to warn you that becoming a dad would turn your life upside down, right? And I’m sure you tried to prepare yourself for all the changes. But there’s a difference between watching a tornado on TV and having one blow the roof off your house. Now that your baby is actually here, it’s pretty obvious that nothing could have fully prepped you for the daily (and nightly) challenges of living with a newborn.
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How being a new dad changes friendships

Dear Mr. Dad: My best friend just became the father. I used to spend three or four nights a week with them and he constantly called, texted, or e-mailed as well. Since the baby has been born it seems like he has begun systematically cutting me out of his life. Hardly any e-mails or texts, and I am only invited over once a week or so now. I have not talked to him about how I’m feeling but when we talk on the phone he acts like nothing has changed. I feel like I’m being very selfish but I really miss my buddy a lot. Is there anything I can do to get him back?

A: What you’re describing is pretty typical behavior for new parents, so don’t take his behavior personally. Chances are he’s not deliberately trying to cut you out and I’m sure he misses you too. There are a number of things going on. First of all, his primary focus is (as it should be) on taking care of his baby and his wife. Any spare time he’s got left he’d just as soon spend trying to catch up on the sleep he’s missing. Second, his natural inclination is going to be to spend more time with people who understand what he’s going through—and, since it sounds like you’re single with no children, you’re not on the short list. Sad but true. At least for now. Third, his wife may be jealous. If he spends time hanging with you, she deserves a break too, right? But with all the pressures of new motherhood, that’s not going to happen for a while. Bottom line: be patient. Your relationship with your buddy has changed—and may never be the same. But with time, you can use the foundation of the old one to start building a new one.