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By Sex therapist and relationship counselor
TODAY contributor
updated 5/18/2010 10:58:00 AM ET 2010-05-18T14:58:00

For new dads, is there a male equivalent of PPD (aka postpartum depression)? According to researchers from Eastern Virginia Medical School, approximately 10 percent of fathers experience prenatal or postpartum depression, with rates highest in the three to six month postpartum period.

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Their conclusions, according to an analysis of previous research, were based on 43 studies that involved nearly 30,000 participants. While the highest rates of depression were noted in the three- to six-month postpartum period (25.6 percent), I would estimate that rates of paternal depression are as high as 50 percent among men whose partners are also experiencing postpartum depression. Rates are even higher in dads who work from home or stay at home, so it looks like there are a lot of sad SAHDs (Stay At Home Dads) out there. While men might not experience the hormonal changes that give rise to PPD, they do experience substantial life changes that can trigger depression.

Dealing with the baby blues
This is one of those issues I dealt with personally. After the birth of my first son, it didn’t take long for me to feel sleepless, sexless, stressed out and burnt out. And as much as I loved being a father, I also felt worn down by the routine and disconnected from Lisa. I often wondered why I couldn’t be like all the other new fathers in the playground who beamed with happy smiles.

My way of dealing with the baby blues was via alcohol. Not to say there’s anything necessarily wrong with that glass of wine or a cocktail, but when alcohol (or any substance, for that matter) becomes the main way of dealing with the natural disorder of parenthood, then it’s potentially a problem. As an only child, I grew up in a quiet home. Nothing in my past had ever prepared me for the “wall of sound” that I’d encounter coming home to a baby. When I walk through the door to my home, my life goes from calm to cacophony in an instant.

Sure, nothing beats getting greeted at the door with those jubilant little shouts of “Daddy!”, but after the birth of my second son, Beckett, it didn’t take long for the wall of sound to wear me down. I’d never been a drinker, and in fact I’d always made a point of not imbibing in light of a family history replete with alcohol problems. But I soon found myself savoring the difference between a smoky scotch from the Islay region versus a smoother single malt from the Highlands. I knew things were getting bad when the holiday time came and everyone bought me ... well, take a guess.

Today I know I am not alone. Since dealing with this issue, I’ve become much more attuned to the scores of new parents who find themselves extending the boundaries of cocktail hour and self-medicating their way through parenthood: from guys knocking back a six-pack a night to “Deadwood”-style bourbon drinkers to mommies who like to lunch (and then some) over a bottle of white wine.

So, where am I today? Dealing. I’ve chilled out on the drinking. Not completely, but more than partially. I’ve also started exercising before coming home whenever I can, which is really the dose of self-medication I need: iPod-enhanced, sweaty-palm-inducing, feel-good time on the treadmill. On a good day (which is most days), the wall of sound doesn’t sound nearly so bad.

Diagnosing dad’s depression
All new parents deal with the baby blues, but postpartum depression isn’t just something moms need to worry about. Is dad seriously depressed?

  • Does depression run in his family?
  • Has his libido gone down?
  • Is he having problems sleeping, even though he’s exhausted?
  • Is he avoiding going out with the baby and generally isolating himself?
  • Do you feel like he’s trying to put on a “happy front”?
  • Is he drinking more than usual or self-medicating in other ways?

Not only is it important to support the dad who may be experiencing PPD, it’s also important to think about how to get him professional help — he may just have a case of the baby blues, or it could be something more serious.

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including "She Comes First" and "Love in the Time of Colic." He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at www.iankerner.com.

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