Postpartum depression is often associated with mothers but researchers found that fathers can also experience it if their testosterone levels drop several months after the child is born.
Surprisingly, the study found that women whose partners had low testosterone levels reported fewer depression symptoms. Fathers with high testosterone levels acted more hostile – such as showing aggression – toward their partners.
According to Darby Saxbe, the lead author, mothers have biological connections to their children while the connection of dads is still a huge mystery. All the researchers know is that fathers contribute to child-rearing and kids do better when they have a father present.
Paternal Postpartum Depression
The researchers examined data from 149 couples from different cities in the US. Mothers in the study were 18-40 years old and low-income. They gave birth to their first, second or third child. 95% of dads were living with the mothers.
Interviewers visited couples three times: around two months after the baby was born, nine months after birth and 15 months after birth. At the second visit, researchers gave the fathers saliva sample kits that they took several times a day to monitor their testosterone levels.
The couples also answered questions about depressive signs. They also answered questions on parenting stress, relationships satisfaction, and partner aggression. None of them was clinically depressed. Men’s testosterone levels were linked to depressive symptoms of their partner.
Lower testosterone meant more stress for dads and less for moms. If women lived with lower-testosterone partners, they reported greater satisfaction with the relationships. The researchers believe that fathers with lower testosterone spend more times with the baby.
Fathers with higher testosterone reported higher stress, and their partners reported more aggression. To measure stress, parents were asked to respond to statements and a high number of positive answers meant stress.
Mothers also answered questions about aggressive hostile behaviors of their partners, reporting whether they had experienced insult, threat, physical hurt, or screaming. They were also asked whether fathers restricted their activities such as going places, spending money or visiting family.
Helping Dads With Postpartum Depression
One of the key takeaways from the study is that higher testosterone means higher stress and more aggression in the family. Low testosterone is normal and it’s just an adaptation to parenthood.
Saxbe said that adequate sleep and fitness can improve mood and help balance hormone levels. Moreover, moms and dads should be aware of possible postpartum depression and should take therapy when necessary.