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The Non-birthing Parent: Feel Confident In Your New Role

The birthing parent is not the only one who is at risk of developing anxiety or depression related to pregnancy and childbirth. The non-birthing parent is also at risk of postpartum depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that 1 in 10 fathers will experience postpartum depression and anxiety (Davis et al. 2007). That is DOUBLE the rate of global estimates for depression in men (Paulson & Bazemore, 2010). These studies have shown that the peak incidence is 3 – 6 months after the baby is born (Paulson & Bazemore, 2010). There are clinicians around the world that have begun using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale on men, as it has been validated for detecting paternal depression (Edmondson et al., 2010).

The stigma men experience if they struggle as a new parent is even higher than women. Traditionally men are viewed as strong and self-sacrificing. This makes reaching out for help even tougher.

Maternal depression is the most important factor for paternal depression (Kim & Swain, 2007). Men also experience changes in hormones, which can impact mood (Kim & Swain, 2007). The adjustment to having a new baby in the household and new demanding tasks and roles also contributes to paternal depression and anxiety (Kim & Swain, 2007; Paulson & Bazemore, 2010). Paternal depression can result from difficulties developing an attachment to the new infant and/or feeling excluded from the mother-infant bond (Kim & Swain, 2007; Paulson & Bazemore, 2010).

Risk factors for paternal depression include:

  • Lack of a good role model: many fathers report that they did not learn appropriate parenting skills based on their own father figure; competence in fathering is associated to mastery of his role in the family (Kim & Swain, 2007).

  • Lack of rewards from the infant such as bonding, or positive feedback from the infant (i.e. smiling). This may be due to lack of experience in parenting and/or fewer hours spent with the infant (Kim & Swain, 2007).

  • Lack of intimacy or feelings of disconnection to their partner. Due to the sudden transition to parenthood relationships are often threatened during the early postnatal period (Kim & Swain, 2007).

  • Lack of social supports and networking opportunities as a new parent (Kim & Swain, 2007; Paulson & Bazemore, 2010).

Some impacts of paternal depression and anxiety include:

  • An increase in negative parenting, which may include harsh discipline practices such as hitting, spanking, corporal punishment (Davis et al., 2011).

  • A hostile home environment may also be the result, particularly with the spouse/partner (Cheng et al., 2007).

  • Positive parenting practice decrease (responding in warmth, sensitivity or carrying out practices like reading or engaging consistently in positive ways with the child) (Davis et al.,2011). Higher levels of positive parenting from the parent who is not struggling can lessen the impact on the child (Chang et al., 2007).

Negative results of the above bullet points may be an increase in the child’s behavioral and conduct problems (Kim & Swain, 2007).

Treatment can include: adequate sleep, exercise and nutrition, social support, talk therapy and medication.

Some helpful websites:

Things that you can do right now as a new dad:

  • Provide baby with lots of skin to skin contact.

This is something that both parents should take part in. Skin to skin helps regulate the baby, but also has a positive impact on the parent. It helps develop a bond but also helps the infant feel safe and reduces their crying. Your body helps their body regulate temperature and their heartbeat. It improves mental development, reduces stress and lowers risks such as future obesity. For adults it is considered the boost for “feel good” hormones (oxytocin and endorphins). Happiness, love, protectiveness are all results of skin to skin! It can also reduce your stress and help with confidence as a new parent.

  • Talk with baby!

Baby’s begin to hear in the womb starting at the 18 week mark, which means they begin to recognize voices. Talk about what you are doing, the things in the environment and things that come to your mind. Be as verbal as possible. You can make it even more fun by reading or singing songs. Talking to your infant strengthens language development. The more you talk the quicker they will pick up on speech patterns and tone, which you will soon see once they start to mimic you!

  • Make eye contact!

This is a very simple task, but it is often forgotten about. Eye contact strengthens the bond, develops trust and increases language skills. One of an infant’s first ways of exploring the world is through sight, they look away from you to ‘explore the world’ and bring their eye contact back to you to ensure that they are still safe and cared for. Such a simple thing is actually creating connections in their brain that will allow them to be a functioning human in society! How cool is that!

  • Get involved with feeding.

Be the superhero that helps prepare the infant for mealtime. This could mean bringing the infant to feed – and getting a quick cuddle in, or if bottle fed create a schedule for who feeds baby when. You can also help with the cleaning, since everything has to be sanitized after each use.

  • Become “Super Diaper Dad” or “Night time outfit Dad”.

Any kind of activity helps build the bond with the infant, this will strengthen your relationship and help you infant know that they can count on you. You can make diaper changes fun and silly! Sing songs, do a little dance or have a special puppet that comes out to entertain during the change.

  • Show baby the world!

This could mean going for a walk, going to the zoo or exploring the backyard. Be your infants guide. This will help them learn and grow and also build a strong sense of trust in you. Take them to your favorite places as a kid; let them get to know who you are.

  • Wear your baby.

Be the one to wear the infant out to the store, when going for a walk or even just around the house.

  • Go it alone.

The birthing parent has gone through a lot! It is important to help her honor herself and have time to herself. Plan a time for her to go out and get some much needed time alone. Also allow her opportunities to sleep. The postpartum body has been through massive changes and it needs time to heal, any extra sleep will contribute to the healing process physically and mentally.

  • Infant massage.

Infants absolutely love to be massaged! It helps bring calm to their body and also is good for their sensory system. This is a way to develop a bond with your infant.

  • Help keep your infant health.

Make the decisions with your partner such as doctor appointments, wellness checkups, etc. Be a part of the appointments. Learn about development, what to expect and ways to promote health development.

Remember: Everything can seem very overwhelming at first, but trust your instincts! By taking part in your infants everyday life you will build confidence and begin to naturally create a strong bond with your infant.


Chang JJ, et al. (2007). Maternal Depressive Symptoms, Father's Involvement, and the Trajectories of Child Problem Behaviors in a US National Sample. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.;161(7):697–703. https://doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.7.697

Davis, R. N, et al. (2011). Fathers' depression related to positive and negative parenting behaviors with 1-year-old children. Pediatrics, 127(4), 612–618.

Edmondson, O. J., et al. (2010). Depression in fathers in the postnatal period: assessment of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale as a screening measure. Journal of affective disorders, 125(1-3), 365–368.

Kim, P., & Swain, J. E. (2007). Sad dads: paternal postpartum depression. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 4(2), 35–47.

Paulson, J. F., & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). "Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and mothers": In reply. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 304(9), 961–962.

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