Premature babies affecting dad’s mental health

Almost one in five fathers experienced high depressive symptoms, and approximately half of all fathers experienced moderate anxiety symptoms that persisted throughout the first year of their baby’s life.

Becoming a dad for the first time, or even the second or third, can be very daunting.

But spare a thought for those who have babies born very prematurely.

For many, there can be extra pressures and responsibilities to navigate.

A recent Monash University study has taken a look at the impact of premature arrivals and the impact on their parenting behaviours.

It found that almost one in five fathers experienced high depressive symptoms, and approximately half of all fathers experienced moderate anxiety symptoms that persisted throughout the first year of their baby’s life.

However, the study also found the experience of more severe mental health symptoms had little effect on fathers’ parenting behaviours with their baby at 12 months.

Led by Grace McMahon from the Turner Institute, the study was conducted in the Centre for Research Excellence in Newborn Medicine at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

It asked fathers about their symptoms of depression and anxiety shortly after the baby’s birth.

Then around the baby’s expected due date, and then again at three, six and 12 months after the baby’s expected due date.

At 12 months, fathers and their babies were videotaped during a play session to look at a range of parenting behaviours.

Ms McMahon said that fathers’ experiences following very premature birth are rarely studied but are crucial to understand given the potential stress associated with concerns about their baby’s health.

It was also because of managing family and work activities, as well as the importance of fathers for the babies’ wellbeing and development.

“The high rates of fathers reporting persistent mental health difficulties in this study is concerning and highlights the need to include fathers in ongoing mental health screening and support following very premature birth,” Ms McMahon said.

“While our finding of minimal impact of depression and anxiety symptoms on fathers’ early parenting behaviours is encouraging news for fathers suffering with mental health difficulties.

“We do believe that these relationships are complex and further research is needed to better understand the experiences of fathers following very premature birth”.

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