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Paternal postnatal depression: How midwives can support families

02 July 2016
11 min read
Volume 24 · Issue 7


Over the past 3 decades, there has been a growing awareness and concern about the burden of ill health experienced by men, and research has shown that fatherhood has a protective effect on men's health. However, there is also evidence that the transition to fatherhood can be complex and demanding, with many fathers feeling inadequately equipped as they begin their journey. This can cause distress, anxiety and increased risk of depression. With a prevalence of approximately 10%, paternal postnatal depression (PPND) is a real and significant public health issue. However, PPND is not widely acknowledged nor well researched. In general, the mental health of fathers in the postnatal period is often not considered. This has resulted in men being underscreened, underdiagnosed and undertreated for PPND and other postnatal mental health problems. The need to address the problem is highlighted by the detrimental effects that PPND can have on a father's health, as well as the numerous potential negative effects on the health and wellbeing of the woman and child. Key findings from research undertaken in relation to PPND have identified maternal depression, poor social support and a lack of education as contributing factors.

Men's health is an important public health issue (Baker et al, 2014). Over the past 3 decades, the issue of men's health has moved from the margins to the centre of health discourse (Richardson, 2013). During this period, there has been a growing awareness and concern about the burden of ill health experienced by men (Department of Health and Children, 2008). Men's health has the potential to be influenced by the transition to fatherhood. Becoming a father, for many men, signals a shift away from individualism and leads to an increasing sense of personal responsibility and self-reflection that initiates positive behaviour changes (Garfield et al, 2010). Research has shown that fatherhood has a protective effect on men's health (Markey et al, 2005; Garfield et al, 2010). Notably, chronic pain, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems and fatigue are less problematic for fathers than for other male subsets of the population, and fathers have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (Eisenberg et al, 2011). However, there is also evidence that the transition to fatherhood can be complex and demanding, and may have a negative impact on men's health (Kim and Swain, 2007; Lara et al, 2010; Sheng et al, 2010).

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