Kevin Maguire

8 min Read Kevin Maguire

Kevin Maguire

Paternal Postpartum Depression

Recognizing the mental health toll of parenthood on non-birthing parents

Kevin Maguire

8 min Read

Around 8 p.m. each day, once the kids were tucked up in bed, I’d take the dog for a walk — just the two of us. The smell of the balmy Mediterranean evening, a warm glow slowly setting on the horizon. I’d walk to a park — far enough from home to prevent bumping into someone I knew, but close enough not to arouse suspicion — to sit on a bench. And cry.

I spent most of the summer of 2019 wondering what was wrong with me, and why I didn’t love my son. He was born three months earlier: happy, healthy, and everything we could have asked for. After settling into the unique cadence new parents face — moving abruptly between adorable vignettes and constant sleep deprivation — I started to sense something wasn’t right. The thought didn’t arrive fully formed; a dull background static, initially attributed to exhaustion. But when it remained, after even the occasional eight hours of sleep, I started to question what I was feeling. A darkness had crept upon me since his birth. I was getting angry all the time, over the smallest things. I didn’t want to be close to my wife. Didn’t want to play with my daughter. Didn’t want to talk to friends. Getting through each day was a struggle, like wading through mud with a 50-kilo weight strapped to my back. And, most painfully of all, I didn’t want to be near my son.

Hearing him cry was like nails scraping down a chalkboard. And he cried — a lot. At least I thought he did, though I now realise my mind was playing tricks on me, blowing this small thing out of proportion, like it was treating everything else: molehills transformed into mountains, trapping me within. I avoided any attempt to solve the problem he had, because my mind told me he’d only start crying again soon after. What would even be the point?

So I shrunk away. From being a husband. From being a father. I went to a dark place.

While sitting on that bench crying, my eternally sad basset hound watching tears run down my face, I tried to get a handle on what was happening. With hindsight, I’m lucky this was my second child and I had some kind of benchmark to compare it against. I knew that what I was feeling wasn’t “normal,” so I started searching online about why I might be feeling this way. Whilst googling things like new dad sad and why am I crying new dad, I came across an article written by a doctor who had trouble connecting with his second child. I read the symptoms and felt an odd sense of relief: ongoing feelings of anger towards your partner and child, feeling numb and empty, increased irritability, increased use of alcohol, significant weight gain or loss, loss of interest in work or hobbies, feeling sad and crying for no reason.

Paternal postnatal depression.

I had no idea it existed.

I was aware of postnatal depression. All dads-to-be are. We’re warned about it, advised on the signs to look out for when your wife, or other women in your life, have a baby. But there were slim pickings when trying to learn more about a father’s mental health after a newborn comes into their life. On the World Health Organization’s website, searching for paternal mental health returned the non-helpful “Did you mean: maternal mental health?” Paternal postnatal depression still returns zero results on the UK National Health Service’s website, and back in 2019 I’d read that some mental health charities wouldn’t allow male writers to use the term paternal postnatal depression when talking about the problem — they were only allowed to refer to it as “depression for dads.”

PPND is not as widely acknowledged or well-researched as postnatal depression in mothers, so the papers we rely on are spread across decades, not years. A 2003 paper said it could affect as many as 25% of new fathers (or 50% for those whose partners already show signs of postnatal depression), a 2015 paper from Japan pegged the number at a very precise 13.6%, whilst a meta-analysis from 2010 suggested the figure as somewhere between 8% and 13%. But it’s impossible to know the true number, because men are less likely to seek help, to reveal negative thoughts to partners, friends, or health-care professionals, or to be routinely screened in the way new mothers are.

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) has become the go-to method of screening postnatal depression in new mothers, and many countries will routinely administer it, passing cases forward if the score indicates the potential of PND. But fathers are not asked the same questions, even though research suggests that the same questionnaire, with a lower cut-off point, would uncover many cases.

How many cases might that be? Let’s take a look at the UK, where I’m from and where the EPDS originated. Assuming the 2019 ONS figures of 640,370 new babies born in the UK (and removing 12.8% of lone-parent mother households), there are around 558,000 new fathers in the UK each year. Even assuming a fairly conservative estimate of 10% of new fathers experiencing PPND, that means as many as 55,000 men, each and every year, with the vast majority suffering in silence. Research shows the knock-on effects of undiagnosed cases can harm generations to come — for example, with children of depressed fathers twice as likely to develop a psychiatric disorder by age 7, and 2.8 times as likely to use mental health services when they become adults.

The changes happening in fatherhood are altering the very landscape of parenting. A problem previously thought of as only happening to mums now needs to be considered for dads too. As men take more active roles in the upbringing of their children — with many attempting to equally co-parent, or the increasing number choosing to become stay-at-home dads — we’re shouldering the burden of sleep deprivation, the pressure to be both a perfect parent and productive employee, and the many things that have contributed to postnatal depression in women over the years.

When I look back on photos from that time, I don’t recognise the man in the picture. Of course, there are photos of me holding my son and smiling; I knew well enough to put on a happy face for those. But there are other photos — ones where I don’t know I’m in the background, walking in the park, or sitting on the sofa. And that man looks broken. Truly defeated. Empty. Shattered, in every meaning of the word. I look at him and realise what my wife must have felt, seeing the man she loves so far removed from the person she fell in love with. I needed help. I’m thankful that she was there to give it.

We figured it out together. Worked on a routine to get things back on track. I started therapy, a daily meditation practice, and exercised regularly. Worked hard to get a good routine back into my daily life. Cut out bad habits that were putting me in a negative headspace. And purposefully spent time with my son, on our own, building the belief that I could do this.

The author, Kevin Maguire is seen holding his baby in two side-by-side shots. In the first, taken with his baby as a newborn, he appears withdrawn. In the second, with his baby a year later, he is much happier.
September 2020 (Left) November 2021 (Right). What a difference a year makes.

One thing that helped was opening up to other dads in my life. I started talking to friends about my problems, and realised that I wasn’t alone in these feelings. When I started to feel better, I began reaching out to friends who had recently become dads, making sure they were doing okay (and telling them it was fine to talk if they weren’t). I started writing about my experience in the hope it might help others — these essays became the start of The New Fatherhood, a weekly newsletter I’ve continued writing about the highs and lows of being a modern dad. Since first sharing my PPND story, I’ve had dozens of emails from people thanking me for opening up, helping them identify the same symptoms, encouraged to seek help. I’ve continued writing about the importance of mental health since. In October last year, I took the revenue from my newsletter and used it to create a direct-action therapy fund, helping dads get access to therapeutic help, no matter where they are. The dads (and curious mums) reading contributed enough to help almost a dozen dads.

Paternal postnatal depression tears families apart. It makes men resent their children — at one of the most pivotal, wonderful times of their lives, and maybe forever — because they don’t get the help they need. There are thousands of undiagnosed dads, silently suffering, unsure of why they feel this way. Taking it out on themselves. Their partners. Their family and friends. And, worst of all, on their children. It’s only through bringing these issues into the open — be it a newsletter about fatherhood, or a moment of vulnerability between two friends — that we can hope to change things for the better.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
An unhappy-looking mom holding her baby at home sitting on the couch thinking and looking off into space.

Aug 22 2022

11 min read

Antidepressants, Pregnancy, and Breastfeeding

(And why that new study shouldn't affect your behavior)

Emily Oster
A new parent covers their face in sadness as they sit on a couch holding a baby.

Aug 07 2023

5 min read

Zuranolone and Postpartum Depression

I had planned a different post for today (homeschooling! Look for it in a week or so), but our inbox Read more

Emily Oster
A new parent smiles while holding their baby in an infant carrier outdoors.

Aug 23 2023

2 min read

Zuranolone and Breastfeeding

I read your article about the new postpartum depression drug, thank you! I was surprised to hear that the participants Read more

Emily Oster
A couple waits for the results of a pregnancy test.

Nov 21 2023

3 min read

Are Antidepressants Linked to Male Infertility?

My husband and I have been trying to conceive for almost a year now. He recently started seeing an ED Read more

Emily Oster

Instagram

left right
Looking for Memorial Day Weekend plans? Might be the perfect time to give potty training a shot. Potty training is notoriously difficult, and we unfortunately don’t have a lot of evidence-based guidance on what works best. So I asked the ParentData community to fill out a survey and share their knowledge — about 6,000 people responded.

👉Comment “Link” for a DM to an article that summarizes all of the best potty training advice we collected. 

Remember, you are not alone in the potty training struggle! It can be incredibly challenging, so please give yourself some grace.

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips

Looking for Memorial Day Weekend plans? Might be the perfect time to give potty training a shot. Potty training is notoriously difficult, and we unfortunately don’t have a lot of evidence-based guidance on what works best. So I asked the ParentData community to fill out a survey and share their knowledge — about 6,000 people responded.

👉Comment “Link” for a DM to an article that summarizes all of the best potty training advice we collected.

Remember, you are not alone in the potty training struggle! It can be incredibly challenging, so please give yourself some grace.

#emilyoster #parentdata #pottytraining #pottytrainingtips #toddlertips
...

We’re hiring an Associate Editor at ParentData! More details at my link in bio. Please share with the great writers and data-loving people in your network. 📊💻

We’re hiring an Associate Editor at ParentData! More details at my link in bio. Please share with the great writers and data-loving people in your network. 📊💻 ...

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings

Do you brand things a certain way to get your kid to accept it? Like calling carrots “rabbit popsicles”? Or telling them to put on their “super speed socks” in the morning? Share your rebrands in the comments below! You never know who you might be helping out 👇

#emilyoster #funnytweets #relatabletweets #parentingjokes #kidssaythedarndestthings
...

Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone. 

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle

Have you ever panic-googled a parenting question when everyone else is asleep? If so, you’re not alone.

Today is the first episode of a new biweekly series on my podcast: Late-Night Panic Google. On these mini-episodes, you’ll hear from some familiar names about the questions keeping them up at night, and how data can help. First up: @claireholt!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #emilyoster #claireholt #parentingstruggles #parentingtips #latenightpanicgoogle
...

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster

Sun safety is a must for all ages, especially babies! Here are my tips for keeping your littlest ones protected in the sunshine:
☀️ Most importantly, limit their time out in hot weather. (They get hotter than you do!)
☀️ Keep them in the shade as much as possible when you’re out.
☀️ Long-sleeve but lightweight clothing is your friend, especially on the beach, where even in the shade you can get sunlight reflecting off different surfaces.
☀️ If you want to add a little sunscreen on their hands and feet? Go for it! But be mindful as baby skin tends to more prone to irritation.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on the data around sun and heat exposure for babies.

#sunsafety #babysunscreen #babyhealth #parentdata #emilyoster
...

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory

I’m calling on you today to share your story. I know that many of you have experienced complications during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. It’s not something we want to talk about, but it’s important that we do. Not just for awareness, but to help people going through it feel a little less alone.

That’s why I’m asking you to post a story, photo, or reel this week with #MyUnexpectedStory and tag me. I’ll re-share as many as I can to amplify. Let’s fill our feeds with these important stories and lift each other up. Our voices can create change. And your story matters. 💙

#theunexpected #emilyoster #pregnancycomplications #pregnancystory
...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio!

OUT NOW: My new book “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available on April 30th. All of my other books came out of my own experiences. I wrote them to answer questions I had, as a pregnant woman and then as a new parent. “The Unexpected” is a book not to answer my own questions but to answer yours. Specifically, to answer the thousands of questions I’ve gotten over the past decade from people whose pregnancies were more complicated than they had expected. This is for you. 💛 Order now at my link in bio! ...

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76. 

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife

Is side sleeping important during pregnancy? Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on whether sleep position affects pregnancy outcomes.

Being pregnant makes you tired, and as time goes by, it gets increasingly hard to get comfortable. You were probably instructed to sleep on your side and not your back, but it turns out that advice is not based on very good data.

We now have much better data on this, and the bulk of the evidence seems to reject the link between sleep position and stillbirth or other negative outcomes. So go ahead and get some sleep however you are most comfortable. 💤

Sources:
📖 #ExpectingBetter pp. 160-163
📈 Robert M. Silver et al., “Prospective Evaluation of Maternal Sleep Position Through 30 Weeks of Gestation and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 134, no. 4 (2019): 667–76.

#emilyoster #pregnancy #pregnancytips #sleepingposition #pregnantlife
...

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster

My new book, “The Unexpected: Navigating Pregnancy During and After Complications” is available for preorder at the link in my bio!

I co-wrote #TheUnexpected with my friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nathan Fox. The unfortunate reality is that about half of pregnancies include complications such as preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and postpartum depression. Because these are things not talked about enough, it can not only be an isolating experience, but it can also make treatment harder to access.

The book lays out the data on recurrence and delves into treatment options shown to lower risk for these conditions in subsequent pregnancies. It also guides you through how to have productive conversations and make shared decisions with your doctor. I hope none of you need this book, but if you do, it’ll be here for you 💛

#pregnancy #pregnancycomplications #pregnancyjourney #preeclampsiaawareness #postpartumjourney #emilyoster
...

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy. 

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙

We are better writers than influencers, I promise. Thanks to our kids for filming our unboxing videos. People make this look way too easy.

Only two weeks until our book “The Unexpected” is here! Preorder at the link in my bio. 💙
...

Exciting news! We have new, high-quality data that says it’s safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy and there is no link between Tylenol exposure and neurodevelopmental issues in kids. Comment “Link” for a DM to an article exploring this groundbreaking study.

While doctors have long said Tylenol was safe, confusing studies, panic headlines, and even a lawsuit have continually stoked fears in parents. As a result, many pregnant women have chosen not to take it, even if it would help them.

This is why good data is so important! When we can trust the data, we can trust our choices. And this study shows there is no blame to be placed on pregnant women here. So if you have a migraine or fever, please take your Tylenol.

#tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancyhealth #pregnancytips #parentdata #emilyoster

Exciting news! We have new, high-quality data that says it’s safe to take Tylenol during pregnancy and there is no link between Tylenol exposure and neurodevelopmental issues in kids. Comment “Link” for a DM to an article exploring this groundbreaking study.

While doctors have long said Tylenol was safe, confusing studies, panic headlines, and even a lawsuit have continually stoked fears in parents. As a result, many pregnant women have chosen not to take it, even if it would help them.

This is why good data is so important! When we can trust the data, we can trust our choices. And this study shows there is no blame to be placed on pregnant women here. So if you have a migraine or fever, please take your Tylenol.

#tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancyhealth #pregnancytips #parentdata #emilyoster
...