Pregnancy: emotional changes for men and women

Pregnancy is a powerful and life-changing experience for women and men. It can stir up some strong, deep and unexpected emotions and issues.

As a man, there might be days during the pregnancy when you feel flat or irritable. Your partner will probably have days like this too, as well as hormone changes that affect her mood or energy levels. These kinds of changes are normal.

But emotional changes that last longer than two weeks and get in the way of your or your partner’s daily life could be depression. You should discuss changes like these with your GP.

I’ve spoken to thousands of people on the helpline and in my clinical work, and there’s a common theme for women and men. It’s ‘I didn’t know I would be experiencing this emotional stuff as I learned about being a carer of a baby’.
– Belinda Horton, former CEO, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA)

Antenatal depression, postnatal depression and men

One in 10 men experiences depression during the pregnancy or after his baby is born. Depression during pregnancy is called antenatal depression. Depression after birth is postnatal depression.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, seek professional help. Knowing the signs and symptoms can make it easier for you to get support and treatment early.

Common physical signs include:

  • tiredness, pain or headaches
  • lack of appetite
  • trouble sleeping, or sleeping and waking at unusual times
  • weight loss or gain.

Changes in emotions and moods can also be signs of antenatal and postnatal depression. For example, you might feel:

  • sad or blue
  • guilty or ashamed
  • cranky, anxious and angry
  • isolated or disconnected from your partner, friends or family – or you might want to back off from relationships with these people
  • overwhelmed, out of control and like you can’t cope
  • unable to enjoy things you used to find fun or pleasurable.

You might even have thoughts about death or suicide.

You might also have changes in behaviour. For example, you might:

  • feel unable to concentrate or remember things
  • have trouble making decisions or doing everyday tasks
  • not be interested in sex
  • want to take risks
  • want to spend more time at work – this might be part of withdrawing from your family
  • use drugs or alcohol as a way of handling the depression.

If you’re experiencing some of these things for more than two weeks, don’t struggle against it or ignore it. Get help. Speak with your partner, family and friends or a work colleague – whoever you feel most comfortable with – and see your GP.

Antenatal and postnatal depression have the same symptoms and are treated in the same way. It’s just the timing that’s different – antenatal depression comes before birth and postnatal depression comes after. You might hear these conditions referred to together as perinatal depression.

Depression and your partner

Around 15% of women develop postnatal depression after the birth of their baby.

Dads whose partners have postnatal depression often find their partner withdrawing from love and affection – not just sex, but the friendship that comes in a relationship.

If your partner is struggling, or you notice that she’s experiencing the symptoms of antenatal or postnatal depression, encourage her to seek help. To start with, she could speak to her GP or child and family health nurse.

Your support will make a big difference to your partner and can help reduce her symptoms. Read more about how to care for a partner who has postnatal depression.

Things you can do

  • If you think you or your partner might have depression, get help. Call PANDA on 1300 726 306 or MensLine on 1300 789 978.
  • Get emotional and practical help for depression, rather than trying to fix it, struggle against it or ignore it. Visit your GP and get the recovery process started.
  • Talk with your partner, family and friends or work colleagues about what you’re going through.