Recognizing Postpartum Depression in Adoptive Fathers

The shape of the modern family is changing. Many families still look very traditional, with a mother and father and children, all of the same race. But more and more families are reflecting the diverse ethnic society that we have become. Two-parent households may consist of a mother and father of different races, or two mothers or two fathers, or other make-ups resulting from LGBTQ unions. Children are not always born into families today. Many are adopted from other countries and brought to the United States. For any parents, adjusting to the transition from singlehood to parenthood can be challenging. But for adoptive parents, other barriers exist.

Although postpartum depression has been extensively researched after biological birth occurs, less focus has been given to the factors leading up to postpartum depression in adoptive parents. To address this obvious void in literature, Karen J. Foli of Purdue University’s School of Nursing recently led a study that looked at what contributed to depression in the two years after fathers adopted children. She conducted an online survey of adoptive fathers and found that nearly 25% of those questioned reported being depressed. Some of the factors that the fathers cited were the young age of the child, low social and familial support, lack of feeling bonded to the child, and difficulty adjusting to the role of being a parent.

Foli noted that all of these factors contributed greatly to depression in the men. Clinicians and professionals working with adoptive parents should understand that men may exhibit symptoms of depression quite differently than women. They may have more anger and anxiety than sadness. They may immerse themselves in their work in order to escape their feelings and avoid the home situation that causes them stress. Additionally, many depressed men also have somatic signs, such as ill feeling, insomnia or headaches. Lack of resources, both emotional and financial, was a big factor that predicted depression in men. Other factors were lack of sexual intimacy with a partner, feeling incompetent as a parent, and change in social status at work. Postpartum depression in the mothers also proved to increase the risk of depression in the fathers.

Although studies have shown that depressed mothers have a negative effect on children, depressed fathers can raise the risk for substance use, behavior issues, and depression in children as well. “Further research is needed to specifically grasp the dynamics of paternal depression and its relationship to maternal depression in the postplacement time period,” Foli said. Therefore, Foli believes it is necessary for adoption services and community liaisons to offer in-home follow up care after the adoption, to ensure the mental health of both parents is being addressed adequately. Ultimately, the better the psychological condition of the parents, the better the psychological outcome of the child.

Foli, K. J., South, S. C., Lim, E., and Hebdon, M. (2012). Depression in adoptive fathers: An exploratory mixed methods study. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030482

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • robin


    December 21st, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    Many times adoptive parents have an even more difficult time adjusting to the change that a new baby can bring because they haven’t had the excitement of the pregnancu to get as excited about it like couples who have conceived naturally have.

    Adoption is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and I encourage anyone who has ever wanted a baby but has not been successful to at least consider adopting a child as there are so many who need good homes. But educate yourself as to what the changes in life will be, and that could help to cut down on the numbers of new dads who are feeling depressed.

  • jude


    December 21st, 2012 at 8:58 AM

    “Some of the factors that the fathers cited were the young age of the child, low social and familial support, lack of feeling bonded to the child, and difficulty adjusting to the role of being a parent.”

    Young age of the child, lack of feeling bonded and difficulty adjusting to the role? Are you kidding me! Adoption is the only way to counter these challenges of being a parent because you CHOOSE to be one when you want to. There is just no excuse for these factors listed by those that just went in for adoption without putting enough thought into it!

  • Lilly


    December 23rd, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    I guess I don’t understand the concept of being depressed after having a child, especially for those couples who have had to adopt.
    This is what they wanted and most of them had to work very hard to make it happen. Going through with adoption isn’t an easy process.
    So where does that sadness come from if it isn’t hormonal like in moms who have actually given birth?

  • Adoptive Mom

    Adoptive Mom

    December 24th, 2012 at 6:06 AM

    Wow, it hurts to read comments from people who seem to not be adoptive parents who think a family just needs to try harder or prepare more to avoid depression. Do intelligent, caring parents who have planned and prepared for biological children ever find it overwhelming? Absolutely. Our family has both bio and adopted children, so I feel I have a good view from both worlds.

    Even with diligent preparation, extensive education and the lengthy adoption process from matching to finalization (similar to “the excitement of a pregnancu [sic]” that one poster seemed to think adoptive parents miss out on), raising the child can bring about negative as well as positive feelings. That does not mean the child wasn’t wanted, or that there isn’t hope for the future, or that the parents made a mistake. This can be true of adoptive and biological parents, or grandparents raising grandchildren, or families caring for foster children — or any parenting situation for that matter.

    I also wanted to address the statement, “… especially for couples who have had to adopt.” This furthers a negative stereotype that adoption is a last resort. I assume the good intent here was to indicate that many couples choose adoption after infertility, which is true. But no one “has to adopt.” Infertility did lead my family to adoption, but we never felt forced into it, nor should this misperception make society feel our children are a consolation prize. Some choose adoption for reasons of their own. Some choose to have no children. Others choose medical or surrogacy options. It’s all personal choice.

  • Annie


    December 24th, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    Any time that there is a big change in one’s life it makes it really difficult to deal and adjust. You always think that you have all this time to prepare for the event, but then once it happens, there are often so many big changes that it’s difficult to know exactly how to handle each situation. The truth is that having a child is hard, no matter whether you adopt or conceive. Having a kid is just plain hard. And many fathers already feel so left out and ignored by the whole process that it never surprises me one bit to read that there are those who are struggling. The best thing that I can suggest is to know when you need help and not be afraid to ask for it. There is someone out there somewhere who has been through the exact same thing, and there is help out there for you. Don’t go through it alone and try to pretend like it is all ok because inevitably that makes things worse.

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