Postpartum depression is a very significant concern for new mothers and justifiably gets a lot of press. What about new fathers? Not so much, until recently. At the end of 2019 Reuters Health News reported that men should be screened for postpartum depression as well, citing a recent study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) that finds up to 25 percent of fathers are affected. You probably know that physiotherapy is an integral part of prenatal and postnatal women’s health with treatments being applied to help with associated depression, but can the discipline be applied to dads too? Absolutely, and here’s how.
4 Ways Physiotherapy May Help New Fathers Alleviate the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
1. The Relationship Between Physiotherapy and Anxiety/Stress
In the past physiotherapy was overlooked as an effective means to mitigate anxiety and stress, but here in 2020 the misconceptions have fallen to the wayside. Physiotherapy is now being used to complement cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of stress management, all of which play a role in the treatment of postpartum depression (males included). For one, studies find that postpartum anxiety often accompanies postpartum depression (which are technically not the same thing). Anxiety (postpartum’s version included) can negatively affect systemic systems throughout the body including the cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and neurologic systems, all of which have been proven to be successfully treated through physical therapy. When you consider the fact that postpartum anxiety can compound feelings of postpartum depression you see how employing physiotherapy to treat anxiety may also provide an assist in alleviating the latter. View more on how physiotherapy is applied to treat anxiety and stress.
2. Postpartum Sexual Dysfunction
Most women report some form of sexual dysfunction within a year of having a child, but it’s important to recognize that men are not removed from this health concern. Male sexual dysfunction is more common than you may think after a child is born and it’s not because dads are simply “losing interest”. A study from Northwestern University finds that a male testosterone drops steeply immediately after the birth of their child which can absolute hurt their sex drive and may also result in erectile dysfunction. Postpartum feelings of anxiety can also result in impotency as it interrupts how the brain sends messages to the penis to allow extra blood flow. We know this information can compound a new father’s concerns but the knowledge that physiotherapy can actually provide treatment for erectile dysfunction will alleviate them.
Note: Some report that the “after birth” fall in testosterone is the direct cause of male postpartum depression, and while the verdict is still out on the direct relationship the fact that testosterone levels drop certainly does not help.
3. Can Improve Sleep
The recently published UWM study also states that fathers suffering from postpartum depression have difficulty sleeping (beyond the 2 AM diaper-changing awakenings). If there is already any underlying physical health issue such as chronic aches/pains or poor in-bed positioning that impacts sleeping patterns the ability to get a good night’s rest is hampered even further. Thankfully, physiotherapy-based treatments can be applied to help improve sleep and deliver the rest new dads need to wake up feeling more refreshed.
4. A Great Way to Get Their Foot in the Door
“Although many new dads experience depressive symptoms, few know how to identify the signs or talk about their struggles.”
“Fathers with postpartum depression are also less likely than mothers to ask for help…”
(Tova Walsh, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
There have been progressive leaps and bounds against the antiquated notion that men should not express their emotions. However, thanks to a legacy of unfortunate social constructs those with the XY chromosome remain predisposed to burying their feelings and ultimately avoid seeking professional help more than their gender counterparts. For this reason it’s important to offer fathers another channel to address this health concern. As detailed above physiotherapy can be applied to address physical symptoms associated with male postpartum depression. This can be considered a gateway for dads to begin the healing process because they are more likely to be accepting of a physical therapy visit than a session with a mental health counselor. During their visit with a physical therapist they will learn the physical symptoms of postpartum depression (referred pain and physical malfunction) and with their guard down they may eventually open up about what their experiencing, even if not directly stated. Over time this may lead to a more open dialogue between them and their spouses/partners and quite possibly with a counselor or psychologist.
It’s unfortunate that there is little information for men when it comes to something as concerning as postpartum depression. For example, HealthLink BC does not once mention the word “father” or “dad” on their postpartum depression health resource page. It’s ignorant to think that in some shape or form this mood disorder is not a experience shared by both parents/genders. Absolute PhysioCare however, is here to do our part to help battle this men’s health issue by helping alleviate its physical symptoms. Whether you’re a new father or a concerned spouse/companion we encourage you to schedule a consultation with Absolute PhysioCare today.
Note: Physiotherapy should be considered a complement to counselor or psychologist based therapy for those suffering from postpartum depression. Visit this Vancouver Coastal Health resource (which unlike HealthLink BC actually mentions men) for your first line of defense.