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Paternal perinatal stress is associated with children's emotional problems at 2 years

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Fiona L Challacombe, Johanna T Pietikäinen, Olli Kiviruusu, Outi Saarenpää-Heikkilä, Tiina Paunio, Juulia E Paavonen

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of child psychology and psychiatry
E-pub ahead of print10 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This study received funding from the Academy of Finland (numbers 308588, 134880, 253346, 277557, 326631), the Gyllenberg Foundation, Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation, Foundation for Pediatric Research, Finnish Cultural Foundation, Tampere University Hospital and Arvo and Lea Ylppö Foundation. F.C. is funded by an NIHR clinical fellowship (HEE/NIHR ICA Programme Clinical Lectureship ICA‐CL‐2017‐03‐013). The authors would like to thank all the families that participated in the CHILD‐SLEEP birth cohort, the nurses at the maternity clinics who introduced the study to their families. The authors have declared that they have no competing or potential conflicts of interest. Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

King's Authors


BACKGROUND: Paternal mental health in pregnancy and postpartum has been increasingly highlighted as important both in its own right, but also as crucial for the development of children. Rates of help-seeking among fathers is low, possibly due to conceptualising their own difficulties as stress rather than problems with mood. The relationship between paternal stress and child outcomes has not been investigated.

METHODS: This study used data from the Finnish CHILD-SLEEP birth cohort. Data were available for 901 fathers and 939 mothers who completed questionnaires on demographics, stress, anxiety and depression at 32 weeks gestation, 3 months, 8 months and 24 months postpartum. Parental report of child emotional and behavioural problems was collected at 24 months.

RESULTS: Around 7% of fathers experienced high stress (over 90% percentile) at each timepoint measured in the perinatal period, rising to 10% at 2 years postpartum. Paternal stress measured antenatally, at 3 and 24 months was associated with child total problems at 24 months, while paternal depression and anxiety were not related to child outcomes when in the same model. After adjusting for concurrent maternal depression, anxiety and stress, an association remained between paternal stress at each timepoint and child total problem scores at 24 months. The strongest association was with paternal stress at 3 months (OR 3.17; 95% CI 1.63-6.16). There were stronger relationships between paternal stress and boys' rather than girls' total problem scores, although the interactions were not statistically significant.

CONCLUSIONS: Paternal stress is an important manifestation of perinatal distress and is related to child mental health, particularly when present in the early postpartum months. Paternal stress should therefore be assessed in the perinatal period, which presents opportunities for early intervention and prevention of difficulties for both father and child.

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