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Hormone levels in new dads affect mood and relationships.
Hormone levels in new dads affect mood and relationships.

Fathers Too Can Go Through Postpartum Depression

Fathers Too Can Go Through Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is often associated with mothers, but a new study shows that fathers face a higher risk of experiencing it themselves if their testosterone levels drop nine months after their children are born, Science Daily reported.
The same study revealed that a father's low testosterone may also affect his partner -- but in an unexpectedly positive way. Women whose partners had lower levels of testosterone postpartum reported fewer symptoms of depression themselves nine and 15 months after birth.
High testosterone levels had the opposite effect. Fathers whose levels spiked faced a greater risk of experiencing stress due to parenting and a greater risk of acting hostile- such as showing emotional, verbal or physical aggression -- toward their partners.
The findings support prior studies that show men have biological responses to fatherhood, said Darby Saxbe, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
"We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy." Saxbe said. "We don't usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms. We are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick.
"We know that fathers contribute a lot to child-rearing and that on the whole, kids do better if they are raised in households with a father present," she added. "So, it is important to figure out how to support fathers and what factors explain why some fathers are very involved in raising their children while some are absent."
Saxbe worked with a team of researchers from USC, University of California at Los Angeles and Northwestern University.
For the study, the researchers examined data from 149 couples in the Community Child Health Research Network. The study by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development involves sites across the US, but the data for this study came from Lake County, Illinois, north of Chicago.

  Array of Questions
Mothers in the study were 18 to 40 years old; African-American, white or Latina; and low-income. They were recruited when they gave birth to their first, second or third child. Mothers could invite the baby's father to participate in the study as well. Of the fathers who participated and provided testosterone data, 95 percent were living with the mothers.
Participants responded to questions about depressive symptoms based on a widely-used measure, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression. They also reported on their relationship satisfaction, parenting stress and whether they were experiencing any intimate partner aggression. Higher scores on those measures signaled greater depression, more stress, more dissatisfaction and greater aggression.
Relatively few participants -- fathers and mothers -- were identified as clinically depressed, which is typical of a community sample that reflects the general population. Instead of using clinical diagnoses, the researchers looked at the number of depressive symptoms endorsed by each participant. Men's testosterone levels were linked with both their own and their partners' depressive symptoms -- but in opposing directions for men and for women.
"It may be that the fathers with lower testosterone were spending more time caring for the baby or that they had hormone profiles that were more synced up with mothers," she said. "For mothers, we know that social support buffers the risk of postpartum depression."
Fathers with higher testosterone levels reported more parenting stress, and their partners reported more relationship aggression.
Although doctors may try to address postpartum depression in fathers by providing testosterone supplements, Saxbe said that the study's findings indicate a boost could worsen the family's stress.
She said studies have shown that physical fitness and adequate sleep can improve both mood and help balance hormone levels.

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