We have all heard about the effect of Postnatal Depression on mums. But what about dads? According to new research carried out by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and published today, more than one in three new fathers – that is 38 per cent – feel concerned about their mental well-being following the birth of their baby.

With mounting financial pressure, changes to the relationship with their partner, a potentially traumatic birth experience and lack of sleep, thrown in for good measure, the postpartum period can be testing for both parents – with very real mental and physical outcomes.

To shine a light on this widely overlooked issue, we asked men who have been affected to recall their personal experiences…

Jonathan Bambury* is a musician, sound producer and father to one-year-old James
“My wife had an emergency caesarian and immediately after the birth I was worried that I didn’t feel anything for the baby. But I was exhausted having been up a couple of days. Maybe it’s different for people who see the baby emerge? My wife was shaking from the epidural, there was a blue sheet across her and then suddenly there was a baby. So I was bewildered by everything.

Having a baby was something I’d accepted that I wanted to do in the abstract, but not quite as much in person; the lifestyle wasn’t something I was looking forward to. At first, I took to it and did everything I could but I found it more and more difficult to cope, as sleep wasn’t happening and there was this obstruction to doing the things I normally could do.

I’m self-employed and love my job and I wonder if this affected how I felt. If you’re unfulfilled, and with scheduled hours, it might be slightly easier to transition between work and family and put your focus on each in turn. I just felt a bit trapped. I work a lot at night and that hinders the amount of sleep and time I get to relax. In the beginning when my son wasn’t giving much back – just feeding and crying – it felt quite hard to handle.

My wife was shaking from the epidural, there was a blue sheet across her and then suddenly there was a baby. So I was bewildered by everything

“My general level of anxiety has increased [since having our son] but then getting older means having more responsibility. I felt like the worse thing I went through, though, was after finding out my wife was pregnant. It was a pretty dark period. I worried about whether I’d be a good enough parent. I wanted to run away. It wasn’t that I didn’t want or feel ready for a child but I worried that I’d end up resenting that child because I wasn’t ready, and that would come across in my parenting and damage him.

Now that he’s one and a half, I feel massively different. It takes you about a year, as far as I can tell, to get a handle on everything. This should be talked about, because you might have dark thoughts in those early days and feel guilty. The main problem is the stigma or shame that society attaches to not being a totally joyous parent. That’s why I tell other dads that they might not feel an immediate bond with their baby, like I didn’t. So they know it’s normal.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the child

Mark Williams, founder of Fathers Reaching Out and Dads Matter UK has a 10-year-old son, Ethan
“My wife’s labour was 22 hours long but I found it fine. However, when the doctors came in saying she had to have an emergency c-section, I had my first ever panic attack. I was 30 years of age. I thought: ‘My wife’s going to die having a baby.’ I never want to go through that experience again.

When we got back home, my wife was very clingy, she wouldn’t let me go anywhere. I didn’t realise that she had Postnatal Depression (PND). We had good jobs and a house but I had to give up work – I was self employed – to look after my wife and baby. I was totally isolated and couldn’t tell anyone because I was worried about Social Services taking away the baby.

What should have been a good time was terrible for us. I enjoy work but couldn’t go so I was having money worries, then when my son was about five or six months, I started using drink to cope. My mind was racing; there was so much going on in my head. My personality started to change. I couldn’t even talk to my best friends, because I didn’t know anyone with a mental health issue.

My first suicidal thoughts came around eight months. I never made a plan, just had these negative thoughts but I couldn’t tell my wife how I was really feeling because I wanted her to get well. I mean, when she was really ill she couldn’t even get out of bed, though she still made an effort to look after the baby.

My first suicidal thoughts came around eight months. I never made a plan, just had these negative thoughts but I couldn’t tell my wife how I was really feeling

It wasn’t until years later that I realised I’d also been depressed. At the time, I didn’t get those feelings for my son – whether it was the c-section, I don’t know, but I didn’t get loving feelings for about two or three weeks. As time went on, I started bonding with my son.

I’m annoyed that there was nothing about c-sections in the antenatal class. I honestly thought my wife was going to die. I had a full-blown panic attack, there definitely needs to be more education around the realities of birth.

What helped me was learning about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. Then I set up Fathers Reaching Out, to support fathers who are dealing with mental health issues. I’ve since spoken to about 700 fathers – they all feel like can’t speak about their depression openly.”

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