Fathers’ stress during pregnancy leads to child behavioural problems, study finds

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2019/08/05/fathers-stress-pregnancy-leads-child-behavioural-problems-study/


Fathers who are stressed during pregnancy are more likely to have children with emotional and behavioural problems, a new study has found.

Infants tended to show increased spitefulness and restlessness, as well as having more temper tantrums than those whose fathers’ wellbeing had been healthy before birth.

Previous research has shown links between mothers with prenatal mental health problems and behavioural problems in their children.

However, the new study, led by the University of Cambridge, is the first to involve both mothers and fathers and to track the development of the child over two years.

Its authors say the results reveal the “unique impact” of mental health problems during pregnancy.

They have already shared their findings with the NCT (National Childbirth Trust), the UK’s largest parenting charity.

Professor Claire Hughes, who led the research, said: “For too long, the experiences of first-time dads has either been side-lined or treated in isolation from that of mums.

“This needs to change because difficulties in children’s early relationships with both mothers and fathers can have long-term effects.”

“Our findings highlight the need for earlier and more effective support for couples to prepare them better for the transition to parenthood.”

The researchers also found that two-year-olds were more likely to exhibit emotional problems – including being worried, unhappy and tearful, as well as scaring easily or being clingy in new situations – if their parents had been having early postnatal relationship problems.

These ranged from a general lack of happiness in the relationship to rows and other kinds of conflict.

Although genetic factors may partly explain the link between prenatal paternal well-being and children’s emotional and behavioural development, they cannot fully account for the correlation.

The authors said it could be explained by intrauterine transmission of maternal physiological stress in mothers living with partners who are unhappy or anxious, even if they are not unhappy or anxious themselves.

Published in the journal  Development & Psychopathology, the study drew on the experiences of 438 first-time expectant mothers and fathers who were followed up at four, 14 and 24 months after birth.

Using standardised questionnaires and interviews, participating mothers and fathers reported on their symptoms of anxiety and depression in the third trimester of pregnancy and as their child grew older.

At each of these interviews, parents also completed standardized questionnaires measuring the quality of the couple’s relationship, and the children’s emotions and behaviour.

These parents were recruited in the East of England, New York State and the Netherlands.

“There has been an assumption that it’s really difficult to get dads involved in research like this,” said Professor Hughes.

“But our study draws on a relatively large sample and is unique because both parents answered the same questions at every stage, which enabled us to make direct comparisons.”

The research is part of an ongoing project examining the wellbeing and influence of new mothers and fathers.

In a linked study, published in Archives of Women’s Mental Health in July, the team found that fathers share in traumatic memories of birth with their partners far more than has previously been recognised.

The research compared the wellbeing of parents in the third trimester of pregnancy with that when their child was four months old.