We have written this book because men have not been well-represented in the parental mental health movement. While we have advanced our understanding of maternal mental health, the field, as a whole, has failed to include their partners. We are feminists and see men and women as equals, while acknowledging key differences. The purpose of this book is to include men in the discussion about early parenthood, to foster a gender-equitable, whole-family approach to parental mental health, and to increase awareness about best practices in the care for expectant and new fathers.
We invite you to join the Parental Mental Health Movement. Social advocacy and action are required to meet the needs of ALL pregnant and postpartum families. Our children will benefit from listening to and supporting both parents.
1. Give acknowledgement: The fact is an egg requires a sperm for pregnancy. Nature takes over the woman’s body, so naturally, she becomes the focus of attention. What about the “pregnant” man? Who listens to his joys and fears?
2. Pay attention: Anthropologists have observed in some cultures a male experience of pregnancy called “couvade.” Some men exhibit somatic symptoms that are overlooked and misinterpreted. We need to pay attention to the medical needs of men too.
3. Ask thoughtful questions: The pregnant couple is transitioning from being a duo to parenthood. As individuals, and together, they are entering a new phase of life. This journey is scary as well as exciting. They are facing challenges, decisions, and fears. Pregnancy is a time to have conversations. Who will provide a safe environment where they can talk, cry, and get support without being judged?
4. Know the truth: Having a baby is hard on relationships and marriage. Statistics challenge the hope that the addition of a baby will preserve or even improve partnerships.
5. Men have hormones too: A series of studies have shown that men do experience hormonal shifts similar to women’s around the birth of their babies, although the magnitude of the change is less for fathers than it is for mothers.
6. Watch for depression and anxiety: Statistically, rates of postpartum depression are similar in fathers and mothers, and rates of anxiety are high for all new parents. We know who is at risk. It is essential to be frank about personal and family histories of mental illness. There is no shame acknowledging the truth. Stigma does nothing but keep one from getting help.
7. Keys for wellness: Fathers and mothers need to sleep, eat well, exercise, have time for themselves, share their emotions and get support. Pregnancy and the postpartum period wreck routines. It is not easy to accept help, but it is a foundation for successful parenting and well-being.
8. Embrace gender-inclusive language: Everyone needs to be heard.
9. Recognize and question harmful and sexist assumptions about men and masculinities: When dads completely put aside their own needs, it reaffirms harmful stereotypes that tend to cause anxiety and depression. Take time to ask a dad, “How are you doing? How are you REALLY doing?” and then be willing to listen if he takes the risk to tell you.
10. Take action: Start this conversation within yourself and your community and make a difference.