Effects of Fathers Mental Health

by Ren Chats
(Denmark)

Father's emotional state during pregnancy affects child psychology:

Children whose fathers suffer undue anxiety before and after their birth, experience emotional upheaval and present with disturbed social behavior during their infancy and preschool years.

Fear, excessive crying, infantile colic, temper tantrums, feeding difficulties, separation anxiety and childhood depression are more frequently seen in children whose fathers experience despair during their intrauterine life.

Research on the subject

Disturbed mental health of the father during pregnancy could interfere with the baby’s emotional and social behavior through infancy and toddler years; shows the study by Anne Lise Kvalevaag et al; Published in Jan'2013 in the journal of American Academy of Pediatrics.

Influence of fathers’ emotional stress during pregnancy is a recent concept. Literature search recovered only two similar studies; one in 2008 and the other in 2009.

The study conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health:
"Paternal mental health and social, emotional and behavioral development in their children" is a large prospective study, spread out over 10 years (from 1999 through 2008), that examined the effects of fathers mental health during pregnancy on early psychosocial development of affected children.

The results obtained:
Results are from analysis of data collected from little over 30 thousand pregnancies; and consequently that many fathers and the babies born. The emotional and social interaction of these babies was observed from birth to 3 years of age.

Conclusion drawn:
The study documented that 3 percent of the fathers experienced high levels of psychological distress during the pregnancy; that resulted in a small but definite difficulties in their toddlers’ emotional expression and social interaction. No sex preponderance was noted among the toddlers thus affected.

Similar earlier study:
An earlier study by Ramchandani PG also supports the associations between depressive psychological state in expectant fathers’ and behavior disorders in their children between 3.5 and 7 years of age.
How does fathers emotional state during pregnancy affect child psychology?

1. Genetic predisposition

2. Negative influence on the mother’s mood: Depression in the father would naturally have negative impact on the pregnant mother’s emotional health, which is known to influence fetal development.

3. Postpartum depression jeopardizes fathers parenting capacity
Besides the stress associated with newborn parenting, the disturbed mental health of the father during pregnancy could continue to be so even after the birth of the baby.

Negative effects of parents’ disturbed psychological state on children's emotional and physical well being are well documented.

Implication

Identifying and thwarting the factors that risk either of the parent’ psycho social well being during prenatal check ups could to certain extent prevent social, emotional and behavioral disorders in children.

These disorders get overlooked: Parents often confuse signs of disturbed emotions in their infants and toddlers either for part of early development, or for their inherent temperament; and children are unable to express their social distress for want of communicative skills. Consequently, the behavioral disorders progress into older age group; and may even persist through teenage development into adulthood.

References

1. Ramchandani PG, O’Connor TG, Evans J, Heron J, Murray L, Stein A. The effects of pre- and postnatal depression in fathers: a natural experiment comparing the effects of exposure to depression on offspring. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2008;49(10):1069–1078

2. Van den Berg MP, van der Ende J, Crijnen AAM, et al. Paternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy are related to excessive infant crying. Pediatrics. 2009;124(1). Available at: www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/ full/124/1/e96

3. Anne Lise Kvalevaag, Paul G. Ramchandani, Oddbjørn Hove, Jörg Assmus, Malin Eberhard-Gran and Eva Biringer. Paternal mental health and socioemotional and behavioral development in their children. Pediatrics; January 6, 2013; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-0804

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