Postnatal depression in fathers may affect children's behavioural development

June 23, 2005

Children, whose fathers have had postnatal depression, have an increased risk of behavioural and emotional problems in early life, suggests a study published in this week's issue of THE LANCET. The researchers found the effect was the same even after they controlled for other factors that could influence a child's development.

Depression is common and frequently affects mothers and fathers of young children. Postnatal depression in mothers affects the quality of maternal care, and can lead to disturbances in their children's social, behavioural, cognitive and physical development. However, little is known about the effect of depression in fathers during the early years of a child's life.

Paul Ramchandani (University of Oxford, UK) and colleagues studied over 13,500 mothers, from the Bristol area of the UK, taking part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Over 12,800 participants had partners. Mothers and fathers were assessed 8 weeks after the birth of their baby using a well-validated questionnaire for postnatal depression. The fathers were assessed again at 21 months. The researchers also measured the disturbance of the children's emotional and behavioural development at age 3.5 years from a questionnaire filled out by the mothers. They found that paternal depression was linked to adverse emotional and behavioural problems in children, particularly boys. The effects remained even after the researchers took into account maternal postnatal depression and later paternal depression.

Dr Ramchandani concludes: "Our findings indicate that paternal depression has a specific and persisting detrimental effect on their children's early behavioural and emotional development."
-end-
Also see accompanying comment.

Contact: Nick Kerswell, Head of PR, ALSPAC study Bristol, UK. T) 0117 331 6731

Dr Paul Ramchandani, University of Oxford paul.ramchandani@psych.ox.ac.uk

Dr Jonathan Evans, University of Bristol j.evans@bristol.ac.uk

Lancet

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