New research suggests that a father’s mental health during a mother’s pregnancy may have a significant impact on the child’s risk of behavioral problems by the time he or she is 3 years old. Though previous research explained the strong link between a mother’s mental well-being and her future child’s behavior, this new study says that dads who experience stress during their partner’s pregnancy may also affect the child’s mental health.
Published days ago, on January 7th in Pediatrics, over 31,000 Norwegian children took part in a long-running family study that included both parents receiving questionnaires prior to birth and lasting until the child was 36-moths old. From these responses, researches were able to conclude that during weeks 17 and 18 of pregnancy, 3% of surveyed fathers reported high levels of “psychological distress.” From this, researchers found a strong link between the father’s level of psychological distress and the presence of behavioral problems found in their children by age 3.
Kids whose fathers reported stronger levels of psychological distress also displayed higher levers of behavioral problems. And the associations remain true even after accounting for other external factors, such as smoking, alcohol use, mother’s mental health and parents’ age.
The findings let Dr. Anne Lise Kvalevaag, the study’s author, to say, “Father’s mental health should therefore be addressed both in research and clinical practice.” Though the study did not establish a cause-and-effect relationships, the findings may have explained the passing of a genetic risk for behavioral problems from father to child** or a father’s stress may affect a pregnant mother’s mental health, which in turn would affect the fetus.**
Moms and dads weigh in: Do you think it’s possible that a father’s mental health could affect baby’s behavior?