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New Dads Report Higher than Normal Levels of Stress, Anxiety

New father holding baby girl

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An important new study published The Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology sheds light on the prevalence of anxiety in dads-to-be. Findings indicate that men experience anxiety at rates up to almost 5 times higher than average during their partner’s pregnancy and subsequently, during the first year of parenthood.

In recent years, there’s been a much greater focus on a new mother’s well-being than ever before, but it's becoming clear that the father's mental health should not be ignored.

It’s only natural for new fathers to have feelings of apprehension and nervousness upon the impending birth of a child, says Akeem N. Marsh, MD, FAPA, Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU School of Medicine.

“Pregnancy and childbirth are happy events, but stressful nonetheless. There is so much uncertainty and a lot that dads can’t control, so the anxiety builds in response to all of that. Besides that, there are many other factors to contend with as well, including what will happen to the marriage, living situation, and finances," says Marsh.

And according to Postpartum Support International, as many as one in ten new dads suffer from postpartum depression or similar symptoms. Clearly, these findings indicate that new fathers need support in much the same way as new mothers do. 

The Study

In recent years, there’s been a much greater focus on a new mother’s well-being than ever before. But, it turns out, new dads can have feelings of stress and anxiety too.

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus reviewed multiple studies between 1995 and 2020 which included over 40,000 male participants.

They found that approximately 11 percent of new fathers experienced anxiety during the perinatal and postpartum periods, a number significantly higher than the global average of anxiety among men which is usually around 3 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

This meta-analysis was the largest of its kind and invites further investigation into an often overlooked element of the perinatal experience.

A Critical Lack of Support for New Fathers

A strong support system is a great way for dads to stay healthy once the new family strikes out on their own. But there are precious few resources for dads to draw from when they’re experiencing feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression. 

“At the very least, the major life event stress related to expecting and being a new dad should be acknowledged by the health professionals involved and family members and close friends,” says Marsh.

Akeem N. Marsh, MD

At the very least, the major life event stress related to expecting and being a new dad should be acknowledged by the health professionals involved and family members and close friends

— Akeem N. Marsh, MD

“Unfortunately, most resources are geared toward new moms,” says Sarah Epstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Philadelphia.

“Mommy and me classes, mom groups both online and in-person, and increasingly normalized conversations about postpartum anxiety and depression are there for new mothers. New fathers are often left out of these sorts of resources, which may amplify the stress and the isolation that can occur for new fathers,” she says. 

Symptoms of Anxiety in Men

For new dads, getting the help and support they need often begins with their own process of self-identification. Symptoms of stress and anxiety in men are often different from those of women, so others—and perhaps even busy new dads themselves—may not quite realize what’s going on.

If you’re a dad-to-be or a brand-new dad, here are some symptoms to look for, says Marsh. 

  • becoming more withdrawn
  • restlessness
  • muscle tension
  • agitation
  • insomnia 
  • dizziness or vertigo

Resources for Fathers

While it’s true that resources for new dads are fewer than those for new moms, they do exist. Postpartum Support International does a good job of providing support in the form of online resources, a helpline and a monthly dads support group and others.

Additionally, there are a multitude of dad-centered Facebook groups that men can turn to in order to connect with those in similar situations.

Sarah Epstein, LMFT

Men often aren't encouraged to share their emotional experiences, but the payoff for connection and camaraderie can be immense.

— Sarah Epstein, LMFT

But Epstein recommends new dads tap into the resources they have right at their fingertips. “Men should talk to other new dads they know. Men often aren't encouraged to share their emotional experiences, but the payoff for connection and camaraderie can be immense. The more men talk about their mutual experiences, the more normalized they will be and the more support they can offer one another.”

In addition to this, she recommends opening the lines of communication with their partner as well, so they can begin the process of working through things together, as a team. After all, it’s a skill the couple will need to utilize over and over as they parent their child together. 

What This Means For You

Welcoming a baby can be a stressful time for both partners, not just for moms. In order for dads to bond with their new family, it's essential for them to seek help and support for unresolved feelings of stress and anxiety.

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  1. Leiferman JA, Farewell CV, Jewell J, et al. Anxiety among fathers during the prenatal and postpartum period: a meta-analysisJ Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. Published online February 25, 2021. doi:10.1080/0167482X.2021.1885025