With all the focus on moms and postpartum depression, dads who are depressed can get overlooked. But babies of depressed dads are more than twice as likely to cry excessively and have colic than babies whose dads aren’t depressed. And because excessive infant crying can sometimes result in child abuse, fathers should be screened along with moms during the pregnancy, according to a new study.
In recent years, treatment programs for pregnant women and new moms have focused on treating maternal depression, but the next step is to involve the fathers, says Mijke van den Berg, author of the study and a child and adolescent psychiatrist. "It’s not very common to ask fathers about their health and mental health, but if you don’t treat the fathers, then maybe you miss a good way to care for the whole family."
The study showed that fathers who were depressed after a child’s birth were usually showing signs of depression during the pregnancy, says van den Berg. "During pregnancy, you can invest more time (to treating depression). If there’s a baby, there’s less time to work on themselves."
While the study’s results don’t specify exactly why dad’s depression correlated with the baby’s crying, van den Berg says it could be because the father is more likely to react irritably to the child’s crying if he is depressed. There may also be a genetic link between depressed dads and irritable infants. And when fathers are depressed, mothers often have less time to address an infant’s needs because they are also concerned about the father, van den Berg says.
"It’s not common to talk about psychiatric problems during pregnancy; most of the time people think they have to be happy," van den Berg says. "But it’s good to keep up the discussion with the fathers who are not feeling well."