Whether you’re a new dad or a dad-to-be, you probably already realize something about fatherhood: it’s the highest of the highs—and the lowest of the lows. You’re on an emotional roller coaster unlike any you’ll ever experience. One moment, you’re beaming, the proud dad of a beautiful newborn. The next, you’re swamped with worry, wondering how you’ll make ends meet, get enough sleep, or just have an adult conversation with your partner. It is truly a time of incredible joy and unbelievable stress. Unfortunately, all the stress that surrounds parenthood—from sleepless nights to the cost of diapers—makes it a time when you are particularly vulnerable to painful emotions such as depression and anxiety. No one knows this better than John.

When his son, Evan, was born, John was in the delivery room holding his wife’s hand. As the doctors tended to his wife, a nurse gently handed John his new son and brought them to the recovery room. There, John spent a few minutes alone with Evan. Wearing blue scrubs, John sat in a wheelchair, cradling his beautiful son, and wept with joy. He thought of all the wonders that lay ahead—fishing together, playing catch in the yard, teaching his son to drive. A photographer at the hospital took a picture of Evan, and John slipped it into his wallet.

Unfortunately, John’s initial feelings of joy didn’t last. Even though he loved Evan dearly and becoming a father was a dream come true, fatherhood hit John hard. Shortly after Evan’s birth, John noticed that he didn’t feel right. Despite being exhausted, he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t focus at work. He felt irritable, ready to snap at the slightest provocation. He lost his appetite and he lost weight. Nothing felt fun or interesting anymore. At times, John even thought of taking his own life. John was suffering from postpartum depression.


Like John, you might be surprised to learn that men can suffer from postpartum depression. Once thought to affect only women, postpartum depression is now known to be common in men as well. Recently, researchers at Eastern Virginia Medical School found that, following the birth of a child, 10 percent of men suffer emotional symptoms severe enough to meet criteria for depression (Paulson, Dauber, and Leiferman 2006).

If you’re suffering from depression following the birth of your child, you’ll be experiencing some or all of the common symptoms of depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association (2000), these symptoms include the following:

· Depressed or sad moo
· Loss of interest in activities
· Significant weight loss or weight gain
· Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
· Fatigue or loss of energy
· Strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness
· Difficulty concentrating or trouble making decisions
· Thoughts of death or suicide

Everyone experiences some of these symptoms from time to time. For example, if you’re a new dad, you’ll certainly feel fatigued, be lacking in energy, and have difficulty concentrating at times. If you have several of these symptoms, though, and they don’t resolve over time, you may be suffering from depression.


While you might find the weeks immediately following the birth of your child to be the most stressful time, depression can strike at any time, including during your partner’s pregnancy and well into the first year of your child’s life.


Anxiety is another common problem that men experience during pregnancy and postpartum. The most common anxiety symptoms that you might experience include the following:

· Panic attacks
· Worry
· Obsessive thoughts
· Compulsions

Let’s look at more-detailed descriptions of each of these potential problems.

+ Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are sudden rushes of intense anxiety that usually last ten to fifteen minutes. During these attacks, you might feel like you’re having a heart attack, going crazy, or about to die. While panic attacks are generally harmless, they can be frightening. They can also disrupt your life if they happen frequently (such as several times a day) or cause you to avoid activities or situations, such as driving, flying, or crowded places.

+ Worry

Worry is simply catastrophic thinking about the future. You can usually tell if you’re worrying when you notice that you have a “what if” thought followed by a “Something bad is going to happen” type of thought. For example, you might think, “What if my son gets sick and dies?” Or, “What if I don’t save enough for college and I can’t afford to send my son to school?” If you’re prone to worry, you might also worry about things like the health of your baby, your finances, or your marriage. Chronic worry often leads to unpleasant physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, headaches, or fatigue (American Psychiatric Association 2000).

+ Obsessions

An obsession is an unwanted, intrusive thought that causes significant anxiety or distress. The pregnancy and postpartum period may be a time when fathers are particularly vulnerable to obsessive thoughts (Abramowitz et al. 2001). Though you might experience any kind of obsessive thought, certain themes are particularly common for new parents:

· Violent obsessions:
These obsessive thoughts can include thoughts of harm coming to your child or you directly causing harm to your child. For example, if you have obsessions about harming your child, you might have unwanted thoughts of stabbing him while you’re feeding him a bottle or thoughts of drowning him while you’re giving him a bath.

· Sexual obsessions:
As the name suggests, sexual obsessions are intrusive thoughts of sexually molesting your child. While these types of thoughts are common, they can cause intense anxiety, especially during parenting activities that involve close contact with your newborn, such as changing diapers, giving baths, or dressing your baby. Note: While violent or sexual obsessions can be frightening, they are common, especially during the postpartum period. It’s important to note that these thoughts are usually harmless. However, if you’re concerned that you might act on them, please discuss them with your doctor or a mental health professional.

· Contamination obsessions:
Fears of contaminating yourself or someone you love, such as your wife or baby, are among the most common obsessions. If you have contamination obsessions, you might fear contracting a horrible illness, like AIDS. In turn, with a newborn baby in your house, you’ll feel an intense responsibility to protect your child, and you might fear that you could transmit this illness to her.

+ Compulsions

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors whose main purpose is to reduce anxiety. Examples of compulsions include checking your sleeping baby frequently to make sure she’s still breathing, washing or cleaning excessively, or repeatedly seeking reassurance that your baby is safe and healthy. You might rely also on avoidance as a compulsion to reduce your distress. For example, if you have violent or sexual obsessions, you might refuse to spend time alone with your baby because of your fear that you’ll harm her in some way.


Excerpt fromTHE PREGNANCY AND POSTPARTUM ANXIETY WORKBOOK: Practical Skills to Help You Overcome Anxiety, Worry, Panic Attacks, Obsessions, and Compulsions (New Harbinger Publications)

Author's Bio: 

Pamela S. Wiegartz, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she teaches courses in cognitive behavioral therapy, directs the obsessive-compulsive disorder clinic, and maintains a practice dedicated to treating individuals with anxiety disorders. She is coauthor of 10 Simple Solutions to Worry. Visit her online at anxietyandocdtreatment.com

Kevin L. Gyoerkoe, Psy.D., is codirector of the Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center. He is coauthor of 10 Simple Solutions to Worry.

Foreword writer Laura J. Miller, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), and associate head of the department of psychiatry.