Fathers and Postnatal Depression

A new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia has revealed a vital link between postnatal depression in new mothers and the behaviors of the baby’s father.

Traditionally, new mothers presenting at their family doctor or at early parenting centers with symptoms of postnatal depression have been prescribed antidepressants. While the medication may assist the mother in the short-term, the long term problem regarding what is causing the depression in the first place is not addressed via drug intervention alone.

In addition, breastfeeding is not recommended while taking antidepressant medication, and both mother and child may miss out on valuable bonding experiences when this classic drug approach is adopted. Women also may feel inadequate when they discover that they are not only depressed, but also are unable to breastfeed their child due to the prescribed medication. This circular situation naturally makes the new mother feel even more depressed and inadequate. Other unsuitable circumstances for the use of antidepressants have been previously discussed in When Antidepressants Aren’t the Best Option (1) , (2) , and (3).

In this most resent study of postnatal depression, researchers found a significant link between the development of the disorder and a lack of support from fathers. Surveys showed that many fathers were lacking in their role of supporting the new baby, particularly in the areas of bathing, and taking turns in settling the infant to sleep, the latter resulting in nervous exhaustion in the mother and ultimately early signs of postnatal depression. Of course, postnatal depression can occur even when the father is devoted to his newborn child. But the study coordinator, Professor Jane Fisher, found that fathers with a critical attitude towards the mother and who themselves were reluctant to assist in sharing housework and childrearing were contributing to the emotional ill-health of their partner.

Women who participated in the 145-member study were found to be undertaking approximately 75% of all domestic tasks on top of caring for the new infant. The study places a new slant on the intervention and treatment of postnatal depression, looking primarily at the environment of the new mother and how best to improve her day-to-day workspace, rather than treating the condition medically through the use of antidepressant drugs. Although postnatal depression may occur for a variety of reasons, Professor Fisher believes that the treatment of this condition should be expanded to include the role of the father.

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