A new study shows that fathers may need parental leave as much as mothers do. Maybe it’s time to rethink how we support families with new babies. The issue is postpartum depression. While this has long been recognized in mothers, with 10-20% of mothers experiencing postpartum depression in the first year after giving birth, it was quietly happening to fathers too. 8-10% of fathers face their own battle with postpartum depression, which is twice the rate of depression among men in the general population.
When fathers are involved with their kids, the impact is obvious. Greater paternal involvement during infancy has been tied to lower infant mortality rates, higher IQ for the child at age three, and a more secure father-child attachment. The amount of time dads spend interacting with their babies during the infant period is also tied to lower rates of behavioral problems in their children when they get to kindergarten.
In a word, babies need their dad. But maybe dads need their babies just as badly.
This new study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology looks at exactly this question. This is the first study to find that a father’s involvement with his baby protects him from later depression.
The authors found that all three indicators – greater amount of time fathers spent with their new born, parenting self-efficacy and ability to provide material support – predicted lower rates of depressive symptoms in the fathers during the following year. The authors also found that only parenting self-efficacy was associated to a higher risk of clinical depression, with the percentage of fathers with symptoms indicating clinical depression being 10% after 1 month, 15% after 6 months and 12% after 12 months.
“We found that fathers who were more involved with their infants shortly after their birth were less likely to be depressed a year later,” said study author Dr. Olajide N. Bamishigbin Jr., an Assistant Professor of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach, in a press release.
The present study is one of the first to focus on a larger community sample of low-income fathers from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds and is paving the way for more research into specifically paternal well-being after the birth of a child. While previous research has focused on paternal involvement as an outcome or a predictor of mother- and child focused outcomes, this is the first study to examine the link between early paternal involvement with the infant and later paternal depressive symptoms during the first year after a child is born.