New fathers can get new baby depression too

Factors that increased the risk of prenatal depression included high levels of stress or poor health.

While for many fathers the arrival of a baby is a magical, life changing moment, new research reveals as many as one in 25 New Zealand men experienced post-natal depression.

A new study of men in New Zealand found 2.3 per cent get the blues during the last trimester of the pregnancy which almost doubles to 4.3 per cent following the birth.

"We used brief screening measures to assess depression symptoms and were not able to carry out full diagnostic assessments of depression", Underwood said.

"There is little evidence on depression symptoms among men during the perinatal period".

Study author Dr Lisa Underwood says there is a growing awareness of the influence that fathers have on their children's psychosocial and cognitive development.

Many men might describe expecting a baby as a joyous time in their life, but for some, a bundle of joy might be linked to a greater risk of depression. And that, in turn, could exacerbate symptoms of depression.

Fathers don't suffer from depression in the same way, or at the same rates, as new moms, so it makes sense that most of the attention would be paid to women.

The new study involved data on 3,523 men in New Zealand who participated in interviews while their partners were pregnant and then nine months after their child was born, in 2009 and 2010.

She added: "Screening needs to be targeted at all fathers". The challenges of being a new father.

"Expectant and new fathers also experience biological and ecological stressors, including changes to brain circuits, structure, and hormones, that can increase their risk of depression symptoms".

More than 3500 New Zealanders took part in the study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

However, "poor sleep quality was the strongest factor associated with depression in men during their partner's third trimester of pregnancy", said Deborah Da Costa, an associate professor in the department of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, who was senior author of the earlier study.

Fathers are not assessed at all - "before or after the birth of their children, since they are not usually engaged in routine perinatal care", she said.

By comparison, earlier figures found one in eight mothers experienced depression symptoms during pregnancy, with one in 12 experiencing symptoms post-natally.

"The Growing Up in New Zealand cohort gives us a unique context in which to identify risk factors for parental depression symptoms around the time of birth and follow long term effects on children's health and wellbeing", says Dr Underwood.

  • Joanne Flowers