Helping dads with postpartum depression

Brown University researcher develops digital solution to support fathers with "baby blues."

headshot of adam lewkowitzA postpartum disparity

Researching high-risk pregnancies, Dr. Adam Lewkowitz discovered that the rate of postpartum depression (PPD) among men closely mirrors that of women.

The OB-GYN physician wasn’t entirely surprised. While Lewkowitz didn’t experience PPD after the birth of each of his three children, several of his friends mentioned the “baby blues” when they became dads.

“PPD affects 10-15% mothers and 8-10% fathers, with similar risk factors,” Lewkowitz says. “But unlike with moms, where there are amazing programs and infrastructure to help women navigate pregnancy and postpartum-related mental health conditions, there is very limited information on supporting fathers through the transition.”

Lewkowitz is a member of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence as well as an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown. A K23 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is helping him pursue his goal of becoming a digital health researcher.

“A major driver of digital health innovation for me is equity in the postpartum period,” Lewkowitz says. “I’ve been doing a lot of digital health-related projects since 2016, trying to attack postpartum inequity from multiple levels.”

Leveling the field for PPD intervention

Aware of the focus of Lewkowitz’s work, his main mentor, Dr. Megan Ranney, brought Brown’s Digital Health Innovation Certificate to his attention. The six-month online program, self-paced and primarily asynchronous, is designed to help students build the multidisciplinary framework and network necessary to develop, evaluate, and deploy impactful digital technologies. Through interactions with faculty and fellow cohort members, participants gain knowledge and perspectives from various sectors of the healthcare industry to help them learn how to innovate transformative healthcare solutions and bring digital health tools to market.

As part of the program’s first cohort, Lewkowitz continued his research in perinatal health, with a focus on addressing the gender-based disparity in PPD prevention. His capstone project, entitled “Supporting Fathers of Infants (S-FI): Transforming Perinatal Mental Health in the US,” details the need for and feasibility of the “first paternal postpartum depression preventive tool ever created de novo for fathers.”

Through the capstone, Lewkowitz makes the case for his S-FI concept, citing data that shows digital mental health interventions are equally effective in reducing major depressive disorder (MDD) as in-person interventions. Crucially, 95% of the targeted population for his S-FI concept own smart devices, which will allow them to access the PPD intervention easily and on-demand. With such access, new fathers will be able to find strategies for adjusting to the major life changes they are experiencing, learning how to:

  • Take care of a baby
  • Take care of a partner with a newborn
  • Navigate relational adjustments with a partner
  • Improve communication and social support

“The whole idea is that by improving the mental health of the father, you are also going to improve the mental health of the mother,” Lewkowitz says. “It’s all interrelated.”


Beyond the academic silo

While Lewkowitz brought medical expertise to the certificate program, he found the business insights of other cohort members to be invaluable. “I had no idea about how to get funding from investors, how to navigate trademarks and copyrights, how to create a company based on your intervention,” Lewkowitz says. “The program helped me get out of my academic silo and explore how collaborating with industry partners and people with different backgrounds is actually a very positive and necessary part of the process.”

“ The program helped me get out of my academic silo and explore how collaborating with industry partners and people with different backgrounds is actually a very positive and necessary part of the process. ”

Adam Lewkowitz MD MPHS

Lewkowitz has high praise for his cohort peers. “I was expecting to learn a lot from the lectures and assignments, which I did, but I was blown away by how much I learned from my colleagues,” Lewkowitz says.

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