Fathers who actively parent infants may have lower risk for depression
Paternal self-efficacy in tasks like soothing or putting an infant to sleep was linked to a lower risk for depressive symptoms among fathers in the year after birth, according to study results published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.
“Depression in new fathers is something that happens a lot, in about 6% to 10% of new dads, and it has negative impacts on children, mothers and fathers themselves,” Olajide N. Bamishigbin Jr., PhD, assistant professor of psychology at California State University, told Healio Psychiatry. “However, it is often an afterthought in comparison to research on children and mothers. We hoped to shine a spotlight on this issue.”
Bamishigbin and colleagues evaluated parenting measures designed by a subcommittee of the Community Child Health Network, which receives NIH funding to explore how social and biological factors create health disparities. Fathers indicated whether they spent waking hours and alone time with children on weekdays and weekends; their self-efficacy in performing parenting tasks, including holding, washing or bathing, changing diapers, soothing and feeding; and how frequently they contributed infant clothing, medicine, furniture, food, babysitting, money, health insurance and other childcare items, such as diapers and wipes. They also completed the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale (EPDS) at 1 month, 6 months and 12 months after birth. A total of 881 Black, Latino and white fathers of low socioeconomic statuses who lived in urban, mixed/suburban or rural areas completed all three screenings.
EPDS scores suggested clinical depression in some fathers.
Researchers found that only higher self-efficacy scores had a negative association with risk for depression in the year after birth. In an analysis adjusted for age, race and ethnicity, marital or cohabitating status, other children, education level and rural location, lower EPDS scores were significantly associated with participants reporting a one-point increase in self-efficacy, as well as spending 4 or more days with the child and providing greater material support.
According to Bamishigbin, clinicians should screen new fathers for levels of parenting self-efficacy and depression.
“If fathers are involved with their infants early and often, their mental health, and the health of the entire family unit, may fare better," Bamishigbin said in a press release. "This is why we suggest paid paternal leave policies, which can allow fathers the opportunity to be more involved with their kids and gain confidence as a parent early on in their lives, without having to worry about their economic security, and may help allow fathers more opportunities to be involved with their kids and be part of shaping healthier and thriving future generations.”
- EurekAlert (2020). Greater father involvement in infant parenting is beneficial for paternal mental health. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/f-gfi091720.php. Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.
- NIH. Community child health research network (CCHN). https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/cchn. Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.