Paternal Postpartum Depression

Kevin Maguire

9 min Read Kevin Maguire

Kevin Maguire

Paternal Postpartum Depression

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

Kevin Maguire

9 min Read

For International Fathers’ Mental Health Day, we’re teaming up with Kevin Maguire, writer of the wonderful newsletter The New Fatherhood, to bring you his essay on paternal mental health.

We’re still a long way from taking appropriate measures on maternal mental health, but we’re an even longer way from considering the mental health toll of fatherhood (and, in general, the mental health toll of parenting for non-birthing parents). I’m a firm believer that all adults in a household with a new baby should be screening themselves regularly for depression, but for many reasons this rarely happens. 

As with many hard parts of parenting, this is likely in part because people do not talk about these issues publicly, and it can leave us feeling alone. For this reason, I’m so grateful for Kevin’s honesty about his struggles and his willingness to share. I hope it helps.  

If you’re a dad struggling with your mental health — or want to support someone in this position — take a look at The New Fatherhood’s Therapy Fund.

Quick note: Kevin is from the U.K., and he’ll use the term “postnatal” rather than “postpartum,” which would be the equivalent phrasing in the U.S. —Emily


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.

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The AAP’s guidelines recommend sleeping in the same room as your baby “ideally for the first six months.” However, the risk of SIDS is dramatically lower after four months, and the evidence in favor of the protective effect of room sharing is quite weak (both overall and even more so after four months). There is also growing evidence that infants who sleep in their own room by four months sleep better at four months, better at nine months, and even better at 30 months.

With this in mind, it’s worth asking why this recommendation continues at all — or at least why the AAP doesn’t push it back to four months. They say decreased arousals from sleep are linked to SIDS, which could mean that babies sleeping in their own room is risky. But this link is extremely indirect, and they do not show direct evidence to support it.

According to the data we have, parents should sleep in the same room as a baby for as long as it works for them! Sharing a room with a child may have negative impacts on both child and adult sleep. We should give families more help in navigating these trade-offs and making the decisions that work best for them.

#emilyoster #parentdata #roomsharing #sids #parentingguide

The AAP’s guidelines recommend sleeping in the same room as your baby “ideally for the first six months.” However, the risk of SIDS is dramatically lower after four months, and the evidence in favor of the protective effect of room sharing is quite weak (both overall and even more so after four months). There is also growing evidence that infants who sleep in their own room by four months sleep better at four months, better at nine months, and even better at 30 months.

With this in mind, it’s worth asking why this recommendation continues at all — or at least why the AAP doesn’t push it back to four months. They say decreased arousals from sleep are linked to SIDS, which could mean that babies sleeping in their own room is risky. But this link is extremely indirect, and they do not show direct evidence to support it.

According to the data we have, parents should sleep in the same room as a baby for as long as it works for them! Sharing a room with a child may have negative impacts on both child and adult sleep. We should give families more help in navigating these trade-offs and making the decisions that work best for them.

#emilyoster #parentdata #roomsharing #sids #parentingguide
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It was an absolute pleasure to be featured on the @tamronhallshow! We talked about all things data-driven parenting and, in this clip, what I call the plague of secret parenting. To balance having a career and having a family, we can’t hide the fact that we’re parents. If mothers and fathers at the top can speak more openly about child-care obligations, it will help us all set a new precedent.

Watch the full segment at the link in my bio 🔗

#tamronhall #tamronhallshow #emilyoster #parentingsupport #workingparents

It was an absolute pleasure to be featured on the @tamronhallshow! We talked about all things data-driven parenting and, in this clip, what I call the plague of secret parenting. To balance having a career and having a family, we can’t hide the fact that we’re parents. If mothers and fathers at the top can speak more openly about child-care obligations, it will help us all set a new precedent.

Watch the full segment at the link in my bio 🔗

#tamronhall #tamronhallshow #emilyoster #parentingsupport #workingparents
...

Invisible labor. It’s the work — in our households especially — that has to happen but that no one sees. It’s making the doctor’s appointment, ensuring birthday cards are purchased, remembering the milk.

My guest on this episode, @everodsky, has come up with a solution here, or at least a way for us to recognize the problem and make our own solutions. I’ve wanted to speak with Eve for ages, since I read her book Fair Play. We had a great conversation about the division of household labor, one I think you’ll get a lot out of!

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

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #householdtips #fairplay #invisiblelabor

Invisible labor. It’s the work — in our households especially — that has to happen but that no one sees. It’s making the doctor’s appointment, ensuring birthday cards are purchased, remembering the milk.

My guest on this episode, @everodsky, has come up with a solution here, or at least a way for us to recognize the problem and make our own solutions. I’ve wanted to speak with Eve for ages, since I read her book Fair Play. We had a great conversation about the division of household labor, one I think you’ll get a lot out of!

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

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #householdtips #fairplay #invisiblelabor
...

Prenatal vitamins 💊 If there is any product that seems designed to prey on our fears, it’s this one. You’re newly pregnant and you want to do it right. Everyone agrees you need prenatal vitamins, so you get them. But do you want to be that person who just… buys the generic prenatal vitamins?

Good news: fancier vitamins are not better.  Folic acid is the most important prenatal ingredient. Iron (with vitamin C) and DHA are also nice to have. Other included ingredients have only weak or no evidence to support their use. (If you do not consume animal products, add B12, plus a few others depending on your diet.)

Vitamins are just vitamins. Any prenatal vitamin that contains these is enough. 

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article with everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins.

#emilyoster #parentdata #prenatalvitamins #pregnancydiet #pregnancytips

Prenatal vitamins 💊 If there is any product that seems designed to prey on our fears, it’s this one. You’re newly pregnant and you want to do it right. Everyone agrees you need prenatal vitamins, so you get them. But do you want to be that person who just… buys the generic prenatal vitamins?

Good news: fancier vitamins are not better. Folic acid is the most important prenatal ingredient. Iron (with vitamin C) and DHA are also nice to have. Other included ingredients have only weak or no evidence to support their use. (If you do not consume animal products, add B12, plus a few others depending on your diet.)

Vitamins are just vitamins. Any prenatal vitamin that contains these is enough.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article with everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins.

#emilyoster #parentdata #prenatalvitamins #pregnancydiet #pregnancytips
...

When it comes to introducing your newborn to the world, timing matters. It’s a good idea to minimize germ exposure in the first 6-8 weeks; after that, it’s inevitable and, very likely, a good idea! This doesn’t mean you need to be trapped inside. The most significant exposure risks are from seeing other people at home — family, etc. These interactions are not infinitely risky, but they do pose more risk than a walk or a trip to the grocery store, since they involve closer interaction. Think simple and make sure everyone is washing their hands before holding the baby. 💛

#parentdata #emilyoster #newborncare #parentingadvice #parentingtips

When it comes to introducing your newborn to the world, timing matters. It’s a good idea to minimize germ exposure in the first 6-8 weeks; after that, it’s inevitable and, very likely, a good idea! This doesn’t mean you need to be trapped inside. The most significant exposure risks are from seeing other people at home — family, etc. These interactions are not infinitely risky, but they do pose more risk than a walk or a trip to the grocery store, since they involve closer interaction. Think simple and make sure everyone is washing their hands before holding the baby. 💛

#parentdata #emilyoster #newborncare #parentingadvice #parentingtips
...

The first edition of Hot Flash is out now! Comment “Link” for a DM to learn more about the late-reproductive stage.

There are times when we expect hormonal shifts. Our reproductive lives are bookended by puberty and menopause. We discuss those changes often because they are definitive and dramatic — a first period is something many of us remember clearly. But between ages 13 and 53, our hormones are changing in more subtle ways. During the late-reproductive stage (in your 40s), you can expect a lot of changes in your menstrual cycle, including the length and symptoms you experience throughout. It’s an important time in our lives that is often overlooked!

🔥 Hot Flash from ParentData is a weekly newsletter on navigating your health and hormones in the post-reproductive years. Written by Dr. Gillian Goddard, Hot Flash provides all of the information you need to have a productive, evidence-based conversation about hormonal health with your doctor.

#emilyoster #parentdata #hotflash #perimenopause #womenshealth

The first edition of Hot Flash is out now! Comment “Link” for a DM to learn more about the late-reproductive stage.

There are times when we expect hormonal shifts. Our reproductive lives are bookended by puberty and menopause. We discuss those changes often because they are definitive and dramatic — a first period is something many of us remember clearly. But between ages 13 and 53, our hormones are changing in more subtle ways. During the late-reproductive stage (in your 40s), you can expect a lot of changes in your menstrual cycle, including the length and symptoms you experience throughout. It’s an important time in our lives that is often overlooked!

🔥 Hot Flash from ParentData is a weekly newsletter on navigating your health and hormones in the post-reproductive years. Written by Dr. Gillian Goddard, Hot Flash provides all of the information you need to have a productive, evidence-based conversation about hormonal health with your doctor.

#emilyoster #parentdata #hotflash #perimenopause #womenshealth
...

There are plenty of reels telling you how to parent. Plenty of panic headlines saying that “studies show” what’s best for your kid. Even good data, from a trusted source, can send us into a spiral of comparison. But I want you to remember that no one knows your kid better than you. It’s important to absorb the research, but only you will know the approach that works best for you and your child. 💙

Now tell me in the comments: what’s a parenting move you’ve made recently that feels right to you?

#parentingcommunity #parentingsupport #parentingquotes #emilyoster #parentdata

There are plenty of reels telling you how to parent. Plenty of panic headlines saying that “studies show” what’s best for your kid. Even good data, from a trusted source, can send us into a spiral of comparison. But I want you to remember that no one knows your kid better than you. It’s important to absorb the research, but only you will know the approach that works best for you and your child. 💙

Now tell me in the comments: what’s a parenting move you’ve made recently that feels right to you?

#parentingcommunity #parentingsupport #parentingquotes #emilyoster #parentdata
...

Let’s talk about sex (after) baby! Today on the podcast, I was lucky enough to speak with @enagoski about her new book on sexual connection in long-term relationships. Especially after having kids, this is something many people struggle with. Emily tells us to stop worrying about what’s “normal” and focus on pleasure in its many forms.

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

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #emilyoster #emilynagoski #comeasyouare #cometogether #longtermrelationship #intimacy #relationships

Let’s talk about sex (after) baby! Today on the podcast, I was lucky enough to speak with @enagoski about her new book on sexual connection in long-term relationships. Especially after having kids, this is something many people struggle with. Emily tells us to stop worrying about what’s “normal” and focus on pleasure in its many forms.

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

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #emilyoster #emilynagoski #comeasyouare #cometogether #longtermrelationship #intimacy #relationships
...

Ever wondered if you can safely use leftover baby formula? 🍼 The CDC says to throw out unused formula immediately because of the risk of bacterial growth. However, research suggests that bacterial concentrations do not appreciably increase after 3, 12, or even 24 hours at refrigerator temperatures. Good news! This means there’s not a strong data-based reason to throw out formula right away if you store it in the fridge.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on another common formula question: should you throw away old formula powder?

#emilyoster #parentdata #babyformula #babyfeeding #parentingstruggles

Ever wondered if you can safely use leftover baby formula? 🍼 The CDC says to throw out unused formula immediately because of the risk of bacterial growth. However, research suggests that bacterial concentrations do not appreciably increase after 3, 12, or even 24 hours at refrigerator temperatures. Good news! This means there’s not a strong data-based reason to throw out formula right away if you store it in the fridge.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on another common formula question: should you throw away old formula powder?

#emilyoster #parentdata #babyformula #babyfeeding #parentingstruggles
...

What’s the most important piece of advice for new parents? Here’s one answer, but I want to hear from you! Share your suggestions in the comments ⬇️

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingtips #parentingadvice #newparents #parentingcommunity

What’s the most important piece of advice for new parents? Here’s one answer, but I want to hear from you! Share your suggestions in the comments ⬇️

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingtips #parentingadvice #newparents #parentingcommunity
...

What's in the bag of a Vagina Economist? 👀 Someone please tell me this looks familiar to you.

What`s in the bag of a Vagina Economist? 👀 Someone please tell me this looks familiar to you. ...

Comment ”link” for a DM to learn more about tongue ties 🔗

Breastfeeding is often difficult, especially at the start. For babies with tongue ties, many infants (and their moms) struggle to get the hang of a good latch. This can lead to painful nipples and to inefficient feeding, and then low weight gain.

So what does the data say about the increasingly common practice of cutting tongue-ties in infants to improve breastfeeding success? Several weeks ago, @nytimes published a long and quite scary article on this topic.

After diving into the data, here is what I found. There is limited evidence that frenotomy procedures improve breastfeeding efficacy and the harms of the procedure are minimal. Many women do report that it alleviates pain and helps them with breastfeeding. However, it should not be a first-line treatment for breastfeeding problems.

#parentdata #emilyoster #tonguetie #tonguetiebabies #breastfeedingsupport

Comment ”link” for a DM to learn more about tongue ties 🔗

Breastfeeding is often difficult, especially at the start. For babies with tongue ties, many infants (and their moms) struggle to get the hang of a good latch. This can lead to painful nipples and to inefficient feeding, and then low weight gain.

So what does the data say about the increasingly common practice of cutting tongue-ties in infants to improve breastfeeding success? Several weeks ago, @nytimes published a long and quite scary article on this topic.

After diving into the data, here is what I found. There is limited evidence that frenotomy procedures improve breastfeeding efficacy and the harms of the procedure are minimal. Many women do report that it alleviates pain and helps them with breastfeeding. However, it should not be a first-line treatment for breastfeeding problems.

#parentdata #emilyoster #tonguetie #tonguetiebabies #breastfeedingsupport
...

Tag a friend who needs to hear this 💛 For many choices in parenting, there is no one right answer. We can use research and data to make informed decisions, but ultimately, it won’t tell you what to do. Only you can decide what will be best for your kids and your family.

I’m here to remind you to take a deep breath and trust yourself. I’ll be here to support you along the way. 

Thank you to everyone who submitted videos, including:
@sarah.consoli
@jess_lynn627
@nicolevandenwills
@thedrblair
@ncbenedict29
@haleycimini
@iamkellysnodgrass
@calesse_smith
@garnet__gordon
@jencoopgaiser87
@danigirl18c
@jamielundergreen
@carly_comber
@thecelebratingmama
@emilyannbynum
@eeliz413

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingadvice #parentingsupport #parentingquotes

Tag a friend who needs to hear this 💛 For many choices in parenting, there is no one right answer. We can use research and data to make informed decisions, but ultimately, it won’t tell you what to do. Only you can decide what will be best for your kids and your family.

I’m here to remind you to take a deep breath and trust yourself. I’ll be here to support you along the way.

Thank you to everyone who submitted videos, including:
@sarah.consoli
@jess_lynn627
@nicolevandenwills
@thedrblair
@ncbenedict29
@haleycimini
@iamkellysnodgrass
@calesse_smith
@garnet__gordon
@jencoopgaiser87
@danigirl18c
@jamielundergreen
@carly_comber
@thecelebratingmama
@emilyannbynum
@eeliz413

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingadvice #parentingsupport #parentingquotes
...

Congratulations on making it through another year of panic headlines! We’ve had some doozies this year, like aspartame causing cancer and the perils of white noise, but these headlines are very often based on poor data. Correlation does not equal causation. There will certainly be more panic headlines in 2024, but ParentData is here to debunk them for you.

#emilyoster #parentdata #happynewyear2024 #panicheadline #datadriven

Congratulations on making it through another year of panic headlines! We’ve had some doozies this year, like aspartame causing cancer and the perils of white noise, but these headlines are very often based on poor data. Correlation does not equal causation. There will certainly be more panic headlines in 2024, but ParentData is here to debunk them for you.

#emilyoster #parentdata #happynewyear2024 #panicheadline #datadriven
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