New dads often experience postpartum depression, especially when their testosterone levels drop off after the baby arrives. But a new study suggests that there may be an upside—at least for your spouse. Mothers whose partners had lower levels of testosterone reported fewer symptoms of depression themselves. The findings highlight the fact that dads experience not just emotional but hormonal changes when their children are born, and that this can affect the entire family.
“We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies,” said study coauthor Darby Saxbe of the University of Southern California in a statement. “We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms. We are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick.”
Roughly 10 percent of men report symptoms of postpartum depression following the birth of their children. But while postpartum depression has been linked to hormonal shifts in mothers, less is known about the role hormones play in a father’s mental health, despite preliminary evidence that testosterone decreases after having kids. To find out more, Saxbe and colleagues analyzed data collected from 149 couples two months, nine months, and 15 months after they welcomed a new child. Researchers tested for both symptoms of depression and, in the case of new dads, testosterone levels.
They found that fathers with low testosterone reported more depressive symptoms at two and nine months, postpartum. But new mothers experienced the opposite effect—when their significant others had low testosterone, they were less likely to suffer from depression. Mothers whose partners had low-T also reported greater relationship satisfaction. Meanwhile, dads with high-T were acted aggressive, and their partners took notice. The fact that high-T worsens the relationship between new parents is one in a litany of reasons not to give new dads supplemental testosterone. “One takeaway from this study,” Saxbe says. “Is that supplementing is not a good idea for treating fathers with postpartum depression.”
Besides, when low-T is not causing postpartum depression in men (which can be life threatening), it may function as an evolutionary boon. Researchers suspect low testosterone is simply one of the ways the male body prepares for fatherhood. “Low testosterone during the postpartum period may be a normal and natural adaptation to parenthood,” Saxbe says.