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Much has been written about maternal postnatal depression: it affects the quality of infant care and may lead to problems with the child’s later social, behavioural, cognitive, and physical development. By contrast, fathers have been relatively ignored. Data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in southwest England have been used to measure the effects on children of paternal depression in the postnatal period (
ALSPAC recruited 85–90% of all women in the Bristol area with an expected date of delivery between 1 April 1991 and 31 December 1992. Questionnaires were sent 8 weeks postnatally to 13351 mothers and 12 884 partners. Data on postnatal depressive symptoms were available for 11 833 mothers and 8431 fathers. Depression (a score of >12 on the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (EPDS)) was diagnosed in 1203 mothers (10%) and 303 fathers (4%). Fathers were reassessed at 21 months and behavioural and emotional problems in the children were assessed at 3.5 years using maternal reports on the Rutter revised preschool scales.
There was a significant correlation between maternal and paternal EPDS scores. Maternal postnatal depression increased (by factors of two or three) the likelihood of high total Rutter scale scores and of high subscale scores for emotion, conduct, and hyperactivity, in the children. There was a smaller increase in prosocial subscale scores. Paternal depression increased (by factors of 1.5–2) total, emotional, conduct, and hyperactivity scores. On controlling for social class, education, and maternal depression, paternal depression was still associated with high total, conduct and hyperactivity, but not emotional, scores. After controlling for paternal depression at 21 months after the birth, there was still a significant association between paternal postnatal depression and high conduct and hyperactivity subscale scores in the children. While maternal postnatal depression was associated with increased Rutter scale scores in both sexes, paternal depression was associated with increased scores only in boys, particularly for conduct problems.
Postnatal depression in fathers seems to have an adverse effect on their sons at age 3½ years, in particular affecting their behaviour.
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