Sad dads

About 10 to 15% of women will experience post-partum depression following pregnancy. It can be incredibly tough to cope with, but it is at least understandable.

Not only have the mother’s hormones been working to meet her own needs, for the best part of a year they’ve also been dealing with the growing womb service demands of her body’s tiny tenant. It makes sense then that the stress of this might knock things off balance for a while before her system has time to recover.

What’s less obvious are the reasons behind the findings of new study, which appears to show that fathers can experience post-natal depression.

It all appears to hinge on how our testosterone levels react during the period following a new birth. Those who see a drop are more likely to suffer low mood.

Not only that, our hormones’ direction of travel can significantly affect our partners response too. All this despite at no point having baby on board.

Say what?

It’s true. The study, published in the Hormones and Behaviour journal, involved 149 couples. Mothers were asked to take part first. All were between 18 to 40 years old and had just given birth to their second or third child. The women could then invite the baby’s father to take part if they wished.

Researchers then visited the parents 3 times in the first two years of junior’s life. At 2 months, 9 months and again when the baby reached 15 months.

At the 9 month mark fathers were asked to submit a saliva sample to establish T levels, while at the same point both partners completed the standard questionnaire used to identify postpartum depression.

The team recorded the number of depressive symptoms reported by those involved.

The results show that men whose T readings were lowest after 9 month reported more symptoms of depression.

This part is not huge news really. It backs up what we already knew about a reduction in T when you start a family, and then linking that lower T to cases of depression.

What’s surprising is the effect a father’s post baby hormone levels affect the mother’s mood. It’s probably not the way you think.

His ‘N’ Hers

Weirdly, it was found that the lower a man’s T in the 9 month’s after a birth, the lower the symptoms of post-partum depression the mother experiences. There’s a kind of see-saw dynamic there.

Yup it seems like in some parenting duos when one’s up the other is down. And we’re not talking late night feeds.

The exact reasons for this are still unclear, but certain aspects of the surveys completed do seem to hold clues. For example, there was a section on contentment in their relationship and women paired with lower T guys tended to be happier.

Head researcher, Darby Saxbe, assistant professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences – and owner of the coolest name we’ve heard for a while – believes this may be significant.

“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. For mothers, we know that social support buffers the risk of postpartum depression.”


If men’s post natal depression is as a direct result of a noteable drop in T, then on the face of it Testosterone Replacement Therapy would seem an obvious potential fix.

However, Saxbe and Co. wouldn’t advise it.

Their work showed this post-pregnancy pendulum could swing the other way too. Father’s with higher T at the 9 month check in were more likely to have partners showing signs of depression.

Again the questionnaire may hold the key to why this is.

Men with higher T generally seemed to feel under more parenting pressure. More often they responded ‘Yes’ to questions about feeling trapped by new responsibilities and believing their child was too demanding.

It doesn’t take Dr. Phil to see how feelings like that might lead to tensions in a partnership. Sure enough, generally the higher the dad’s T, the lower the mother reported her relationship satisfaction. So of course these feelings would leave her more open to depression.

Saxbe again;

“One takeaway from this study is that supplementing is not a good idea for treating fathers with postpartum depression. Low testosterone during the postpartum period may be a normal and natural adaptation to parenthood”

So what’s the answer?

The first thing to do is don’t worry. The chances of post-partum depression in men or women are small enough that you shouldn’t lose too much sleep over it.

Only about 10% of men in this small study showed any adverse signs, so if you and yours are planning to start a family, have at it, tiger.

If you are experiencing low mood after a birth though, it’s not a great idea to go looking to top up your T from a lab. For a couple of reasons.

  1. Firstly, as this study’s lead author says, it’s probable that the drop in T serves a purpose. It just temporarily takes the edge off your alpha, so you can look after the pack. It’s likely your T and mood will start to climb again on their own.
  2. Secondly, we still don’t know the long term side effects of TRT. Put it this way, only one of you should be getting what you need from a bottle at that point, and unless you’re under 3 feet tall, it ain’t you Pa.

But feeling low royally sucks and you shouldn’t have to just wait difficult feelings out. A combination of sensible exercise, a healthy diet and a quality natural supplement are all good ways to stimulate your body’s own T supply and a better mood.

Long article short, any drop is only for a little while for a little one. You’ll be the daddy in all walks of life again in no time.

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