Cheer up Charlie

Sad dads might have affect their kids earlier than previously thought.

Seen in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group of Norwegian doctors found that a father’s stress and depression during his partner’s pregnancy is a possible predictor for future emotional, behavioral, and social problems in his child.

The study, carried out by Anne Lise Kvalevaag, Paul G. Ramchandani, Oddbjørn Hove, Jörg Assmus, Malin Eberhard-Gran and Eva Biringer, was based on 31.663 responses in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Information about dads’ mental health was obtained by self-report, and moms’ mental health, as well as behavioral development of the children (at 36 months) were obtained by parent questionnaires.

Kvalevaag and company “found a small positive association between fathers’ psychological distress and children’s behavioral difficulties,” says the study. “Children whose fathers had high levels of psychological distress had higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems.” Overall, three percent of fathers in the study had “high levels of psychological distress.”

There is, however, no definite line drawn between the father’s mental health during the pregnancy and the child’s behavior. The researchers suggest that it is possible that either the father’s genetics are carried-out through the child, regardless of the pregnancy period. The researchers also suggest that the father could be negatively affecting the mother during pregnancy, who then passes the stress down to the baby. Or, finally, the father may be affecting the child after the birth – in other words, bad vibes in the house make for an unruly kid.

In any event – this study confirms that a new father’s mental health is imperative to a child’s development, and a dad’s stress level should be addressed (and assisted!) during pregnancy to ensure the future emotional success of the family.

You can read the details of the study in the January 6, 2013 issue of Pediatrics.