In the last decade, we've been better at recognizing postpartum mood disorders in the birthing parent. We know that it doesn't look the same for everyone, it can manifest anytime in the first year, and that the birth experience and other stress triggers can play a huge role in a mood disorder rearing its ugly head. But now, we're recognizing that male partners can also experience postpartum mood disorders, or even exhibit post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Being a witness to the traumatic birth of your partner or spouse can definitely put you at risk for a mood disorder. But sometimes, it doesn't even have to be a traumatic experience. Also, if the birthing parent is experiencing a mood disorder, it puts a lot of extra pressure on the spouse to pick up the pieces and be a good source of support for their family. Other risk factors that may be known before the baby is born include a history of depression in you or your family, financial problems (especially with the household income being cut while the birthing parent is on maternity leave), missing the attention of your spouse while they;re in recovery and feeding mode, and not feeling bonded to baby or useful during the feeding and recovery period.
The problem with male postpartum depression is that it's often not seen as a mood disorder because it doesn't manifest itself the way we would expect. Moreover, we're more prone to look for it in the birthing parent. Men with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety can exhibit increased frustration; irritability and anger or conflict with others; violent behaviour; isolation from friends and family; cynicism; physical ailments like headaches or unexplained pain; and impulsiveness or risk-taking behaviour. Such examples of this include reckless driving, extramarital affairs, or increased use of alcohol and/or drugs.
It's important to recognize that things have changed since your baby has come and that you just don't feel like yourself, or that you're more easily set off. It's great for starting to get both the support and help that you need to feel better. Speaking to your family doctor will also help get the ball rolling. While you wait for said support, counseling or medication from your care provider, there are other things you can do at home to help facilitate your recovery.
Have someone to talk to. You may eventually get support from a counselor, but that can sometimes take a few months or even longer than that. In the meantime, look to see if you have a family member or friend who you feel comfortable chatting with. If you do, be open about what you're feeling and going through. If you have a male friend or relative that has children, they can be a great resource to know that what you're experiencing is normal and that it's okay to feel the way you do.
Encourage outside help and support in the home, especially in the early weeks of being a new parent. Sometimes, we see couples have issues with family camping out and being overly intrusive in the beginning. But if you can layout prenatally what your expectations are of their support, it can be helpful to everyone so you get what you need while mothers and mothers-in-law alike get what they need. Also, don't be shy about telling friends that ask if you need anything that you actually need. When they say "Can we bring you anything?", the answer can always yes! Have a running list of groceries or errands that need to be done and push that stuff on to friends or family. If they resist or get resentful, then they aren't truly there for you.
If you feel like you're useless during the feeding and recovery period, please know that you aren't. While breastfeeding is the birthing parent's main job, the partner has a particularly vital role in not feeding the baby, but rather in feeding the breastfeeding parent. The feeding parent needs support in getting rest, staying fed and hydrated and taking their medication. After feeding, your job is to provide baby support. Spending some of that time doing skin to skin with your baby and just holding and snuggling them can truly help the feeding parent. Plus, it helps you bond with this new little human that has entered your life. That can take up a lot of time, which is why you need to rely on friends, family and/or doula support to get all those little things done.
Through it all, please remember whatever you're feeling is valid. It's okay to not feel awesome about having a new baby or becoming a parent. But stashing away your ego and machismo to get help as soon as possible can make being a new dad a much more enjoyable experience, as well as help your marriage and your relationship with your newborn baby.