Ladies, don't disregard your man's postpartum depression—depressed dads are more likely to pick up a paddle instead of a book.
Studies of parental depression usually focus on moms with postpartum depression, but depression in fathers can also negatively affect a young child's health and development, finds research published in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics. In the dad-centered study, carried out by a team from University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, researchers looked at data from almost 2,000 fathers of 1-year-old children. Overall, 7 percent of new dads suffered from depression. Compared to non-depressed dads, depressed fathers were nearly four times more likely to report spanking their child, and less likely to report reading regularly to their child.
"The [increase in spanking] is particularly concerning given that children were only 1 year of age in our study, a developmental stage when children are unlikely to understand the connection between their behavior and subsequent punishment and when spanking is more likely to cause physical injury," study authors note.
On a slightly more positive note, most depressed and non-depressed fathers reported regularly playing games and singing or talking to their child, suggesting that these activities may be more routine behaviors for fathers—regardless of mood.
Postpartum depression is more common in women—affecting up to 25 percent of new moms—but the problem may be more serious in men than doctors recognize, a Time magazine report on the study points out. It is standard practice during well-child visits for pediatricians to ask new moms about feelings of depression, but researchers now urge pediatricians to reach out equally to new dads. And, study authors note, this may turn out to be surprisingly easy. According to their findings, 77 percent of depressed fathers said they had spoken with their child's doctor in the past year, giving pediatricians the opportunity to check in on fathers' mental well-being.
"The finding that the majority of depressed fathers reported talking with their 1-year-old children's doctor in the previous year suggests an opportunity for pediatric providers to engage depressed fathers," says study authors.
Still, if you're a new dad who is feeling the "baby blues," don't wait until your child's next doctor's appointment to discuss your feelings. Make an appointment to see your own doctor and in the meantime, check your local area for new dad support groups.