Postnatal distress in fathers linked to parenting problems years later

Photo: David Woo. Creative Commons.

Distressed fathers with low confidence in their parenting postnatally are more likely to exhibit parenting hostility when their child is 4-5 years old.

In a study analysing data from 3,741 fathers in Australia, we found that fathers who are distressed and have low confidence in their parenting ability in the postnatal period are more likely to exhibit more parenting hostility and less consistency when their child is 4-5 years old.


Our study also found that children parented in this diminished way at 4-5 years were more likely to demonstrate emotional, social and behavioural difficulties at the age of 8-9 years.


The reports on children’s behaviour were provided by mothers, fathers and teachers.


Another connection we found in the data was between fathers’ higher self-confidence in the postnatal period, warmer parenting when the child was aged 4-5 years, and a more sociable child at age 8-9 years – the converse of the relationship between fathers’ low self-confidence and later problems for children.


It is estimated that about 10% of fathers suffer from depression between the first trimester of pregnancy and 12 months after their baby is born, and research has established that children of depressed fathers are more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems in later life.


Our advice is to include fathers in assessments of perinatal mental health and encourage fathers to participate in programs designed to promote their emotional wellbeing and parenting competence. Family members should look out carefully for signs of perinatal distress not just in mothers, but fathers as well – doing something about it early will help the child in the future.