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Insecurities Linked to Postnatal Depression Symptoms in New Dads

Dad holding and kissing newborn baby's forehead, wrapped in hospital blanket

Ariel Skelley/DigitalVision/Getty

Discussions around parenting stress and postpartum depression often place the focus on the birthing parent. Even though it is very common, showing up in about 10% to 15% of birthing parents, both parents are at risk for parental stress and depression after giving birth, especially if it is a couple's first child.

A new study from Sweden's Lund University examined the ways in which fathers—defined in this study as cismen—experience fear and feelings of inadequacy related to parenting their new children. These feelings of incompetence ultimately connect to ongoing anxiety and postnatal depression (PND).

Paternal Postpartum Depression

Dr. Zaher Merhi, OBGYN, says, “We often talk about postpartum depression in mothers, but rarely talk about it in fathers. Paternal postpartum depression is more common than people think, especially when it's regarding a first born, and I believe it needs to be talked about more in order to reduce its stigma. The incidence of paternal depression has been reported to be as high as 25% in some studies.”

Within the context of this study, parental stress was defined as feelings of restriction and incompetence in parenting, and data was collected via an online assessment. Researchers looked for links between the negative paternal feelings around parenting and relational variables, including relationship satisfaction.

Results of the study showed a link between attachment anxiety and paternal PND, showing that men with higher attachment anxiety may experience parenting as stressful, and be more likely to face postpartum depression.

What Are Attachment Styles?

Attachment styles are categories under what is known as attachment theory. There are several versions of this theory, but John Bowlby is one of the more respected individuals that focused on this work. Bowlby conducted research on children back in the 1930s, and explained the theory as the “...lasting psychological connectedness between human beings,” The widely accepted breakdown of the types of attachment are:

  • Ambivalent-insecure—Children may be wary of strangers, distressed when separated from a caregiver, and not appear comforted upon a caregiver’s return.
  • Avoidant-insecure—Children may avoid contact and comfort from their parents and show little or no preference for parents over strangers.
  • Disorganized-insecure—Children show a mixture of avoidant and resistant behavior and may seem confused and apprehensive at age 1. By age 6, they may take on a parental role and act like a caregiver toward their parents.

While there are conflicting opinions among theorists regarding when and how attachment styles are developed, behavioral theorists suggest that an individual's attachment style affects their relationships in the future.

Dr. Zaher Merhi

Paternal postpartum depression is NOT uncommon. Having a baby is a huge life changing event that requires an adjustment period.

— Dr. Zaher Merhi

The Role of Perceived Masculinity

Men are thought to underreport their symptoms of depression, as well as other illnesses, both mental and physical. Research has shown that men may refuse to be honest with their partners about their feelings, and even forego important aspects of health, such as a healthy sleep routine, in an effort to maintain their perceived masculinity.

Society has molded a lot of men and masculine individuals to feel like they have to show up for their friends and family in a particular way, but the truth is that change and transition are tough for everyone. Dr. Merhi pinpoints sleep loss, lack of partner attention and intimacy, and increased financial stress as aspects of new parenthood that can feel overwhelming for first-timers.

There are several factors that can contribute to fathers feeling insecure. Some men may have lacked positive modeled parental behavior during their own childhood, and others may be fully wrapped up in supporting the birthing partner, who may be dealing with their own postpartum depression.

“Their partner may not be giving them the same amount of attention that they were used to getting," Merhi says. "This might cause new fathers to start doubting their relationship and feel more insecure. Additionally, difficulty developing an attachment with the baby can contribute to paternal insecurity.”

Merhi encourages fathers to be open about what they are feeling during this time, and not to be afraid to ask for help if you need it. “It is important to be open about your feelings to your partners and seek support from family, friends, and even from professionals. Paternal postpartum depression is NOT uncommon. Having a baby is a huge life changing event that requires an adjustment period.” 

What This Means For You

It's important to recognize that both parents, regardless of their gender, have the capacity to find themselves incredibly insecure or nervous about being a new parent. This can help shape resources and support systems for expecting individuals and couples.

There is still a mental health stigma placed on men and masculine folks that can contribute to a lack of transparency about their feelings and struggles, especially in roles where they have a perceived expectation of providing and being strong. With more and more studies like this emerging, there is potential for a more positive shift, ultimately resulting in all parents feeling supported and well-resourced, even when things get difficult.

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Bowlby, J. Attachment and loss. (OKS Print.) New York: Basic Books. 1969.

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  4. Warren N, Campbell T. The sleep-deprived masculinity stereotypeJ Assoc Consum Res. 2020. doi:10.1086/711758