If your depression persists for more than a couple of months, you may find it worthwhile to seek professional help.
Feeling depressed? Wishing that you could share in the joy of having a new baby, but you're feeling left cold for some reason? You're not alone. More than half of new fathers experience their own version of postpartum depression. Fortunately, the depression of new fathers, like that of new mothers, usually passes relatively quickly.
Although you have ample reason to feel happy and exhilarated, you probably have plenty of good reasons to feel depressed, too. The following sections address some of the most common causes of depression for new fathers.
Having a baby changes relationships within the whole family. You may find it difficult to adjust to these changes. For one thing, you probably won't make love with your partner as often as you did before having the baby. Even worse, you will both no longer have as much energy to invest in each other physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
With all the dramatic changes that your tiny new tenant has wrought in your household, you may wonder, "Where do I fit in?" With no clear sense of purpose in your home, you may suddenly feel like an observer of events that seem outside your control. If so, then stop sitting on the sidelines. You may be able to shake a good deal of your depression by taking action. Define your role more clearly by participating as an equal partner.
If you're out of the house working most of the day, try to assume more than your share of caregiving when you get home. Especially if your partner works outside the home, too, you should increase your share of child care and other parenting responsibilities. Help out with household chores, too. Recognize that your partner has a full-time job even if she's "only" with the baby all day. Do some cleaning and cooking and diapering and work your way out of depression.
Any financial worries you may have had before the conception of your child have only gotten worse since. Paying the hospital bills, setting up a nursery, buying clothes-none of these come cheap. (And then there's the cost of a college education down the road.)
You undoubtedly have a greater financial burden, especially if you've lost a big portion of your household income for some time because your partner is staying home to care for the baby.
Breadwinning is an enormous responsibility for new fathers. Despite some changes in women's and men's roles, things haven't changed all that much. Even if your partner plans to return to work in just a few months, you probably feel as though the entire burden of bringing money into the home falls on your shoulders.
Do whatever you can to alleviate some of the financial burden you feel. Cut down on whatever expenses you can, at least until you feel afloat once again. (You certainly won't be going out as much as you once did, and that should help a little.) For instance, you might want to spend your vacation at home instead of traveling anywhere.
Many people still don't know how to regard a man who participates fully in baby care. Many mothers are very accepting of fathers that they get to know through play groups with their babies. Yet in the playground, many mothers are very wary of "strange men," even those accompanied by a baby.
Complete strangers may approach you in the grocery store and ask if you're babysitting today. (Would they even think of asking a mother the same question?) You can't control other people's responses and reactions to your involvement in your baby's care, but you don't have to feel awkward just because other people don't know what to make of you.
Too many late-night calls and all-nighters (even if you're not physically getting up) may leave you feeling extremely fatigued, and exhaustion contributes greatly to depression. Try to take good overall care of yourself so that you can better take care of both your baby and your partner, both of whom will need some special care in the first year of his life. Get as much rest as you can, eat right, and try to get at least two to three hours of exercise a week.
You may have almost no social life anymore. If you work outside the home, you may have no social contacts whatsoever that aren't related to your job or business, especially if, as a conscientious parent, you rush straight home after work to be with your family. If, on the other hand, you work part-time, work at home, or have taken time off (temporarily or permanently) from outside work so that you have more time to devote to baby care, you may feel a different kind of isolation: gender isolation. You may be the only dad at your local "Mommy and Me" group or the only man you see at the playground in the middle of the morning.
If you feel cut off from others, seek out support groups for new fathers. You might also want to check with your local adult education program, a community college, or the YMCA to see if they offer courses aimed exclusively toward fathers. Don't give up on your relationships with other men. Arrange with your partner to trade off nights every two or three weeks so that you can have a "boys' night out" with some of your friends and she can have a "girls' night out" (though this trade-off may be difficult to manage until your child is weaned).
Whatever the cause of your depression, you owe it to yourself, your partner, and your baby to deal with it. Seek out financial counseling, emotional support, and the good advice of your partner. Take good care of yourself now, emotionally as well as physically. Make your emotional, physical, and spiritual health a priority. After all, you want to stick around for as much of your baby's life as possible, don't you?
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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