I’ve written several articles on the impact of the mom’s mental health on the development of her unborn baby, but what about the dad? Could the mental health of the father also impact his unborn child? A study published in Pediatrics provides and answer to this question.
A Norway study of 32,000 children found that the psychological distress of dad during a baby’s pregnancy did indeed impact child development.
Specifically, fathers were given a screening questionnaire regarding their mental health status during their child’s pregnancy. Later, mothers were asked to also fill out questionnaires regarding their child’s development. Controlling for a number of variables, an association was found between the fathers’ mental health and their children’s later developmental problems. Dads who scored high on anxiety and distress when the mom was 17-18 weeks pregnant, had children who were more disruptive and anxious at age three!
Why is this?
One can only speculate–maybe the mental health of the father later impacts his parenting, or maybe his mental health impacts the mother’s mental health, or maybe there is a genetic link..we don’t really know.
But psychologist, James Paulson, associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University has been studying the mental health of dads and how this may impact child development. He believes the study has an important take away–consider the mental health of the dad, not just the mother. Better depression screening for dads just might make a difference in the development of healthy kids, even before they are born.
Reference: Paternal Mental Health and Socioemotional and Behavioral Development in Their Children, Kvalevaag, et al.