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Study: Father's Mental State May Affect Toddler

Update Date: Jan 07, 2013 12:50 PM EST

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that a father-to-be's psychological distress may influence his toddler's emotional and behavioral development.

A Norwegian cohort found paternal psychological distress was associated with a small but positive risk of a child developing behavioral difficulties, emotional difficulties, and impaired social functioning at age 36 months, according to Anne Lise Kvalevaag, PhD candidate, of Helse Fonna HF in Haugesund, Norway, and colleagues.

For the study, published online Jan. 7 in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers looked at more than 31,000 children born in Norway and their parents.

"The results of this study point to the fact that the father's mental health represents a risk factor for child development, whereas the traditional view has been that this risk in large is represented by the mother," said study lead author Anne Lise Kvalevaag. "The father's mental health should therefore be addressed both in research and clinical practice."

Fathers were asked questions about their mental health, such as whether they felt blue or fearful, when the mothers were four to five months' pregnant.

Meanwhile, mothers also provided information about their own mental health and about their children's social, emotional and behavioral development at age 3 years.

"The current study demonstrates that there is a consistent positive predictive association between fathers' parental mental health status and their children's socio-emotional and behavioral development at 36 months of age," they concluded.

"The findings are of importance for clinicians and policymakers in their planning of healthcare in the perinatal period because this represents a significant opportunity for preventive intervention."

Fathers are often overlooked when it comes to doctors appointments for the mother and child. After all, those are the two, whose physical well-being is being evaluated.

Another expert said that depression in fathers could also affect the mental health of the mother-to-be and thus, indirectly, the developing fetus.

"If a father is highly distressed, that could affect the mom's secretion of hormones during pregnancy, it could affect her sleep, her own mental status," said Daniel Armstrong, professor of pediatrics and director of the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

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