Thank you everyone for your patience during the two-week break in child-Psych.  As some of you know, I just relocated from Pittsburgh to Michigan where I started my new research program while working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology of The University of Michigan. The transition is time consuming but I’m finally all settled in the new town and I’m almost fully operational. I hope that I’ll be able to write several weekly updates to child-psych starting this week.

Last night I had a chance to start reading again and an article published in Pediatrics caught my attention. The article reported the findings of a study examining the link between father’s depression and infant excess crying or colic.  The study appears to continue a line of research that explores the often neglected role of father’s mental health on the child’s development. For example, recently I commented on the effects of father-daughter bond on the quality of the daughters romantic relationships, and on a study examining the impact of fathers (not mothers) postpartum depression on the child’s language development.

In this new study, the researchers were interested in examining factors that may be associated with excess infant crying. Specifically, although mother depression (pre and postpartum) has been associated with colic, little is known about the effects of father depression. This is of major importance since recent studies suggest that fathers get depressed during and after pregnancy at rates that are comparable to mothers. The study was part of the Generation R Study, a large population-based longitudinal of child development. The study included 7,654 children born between 2002 and 2006. The researchers evaluated maternal and paternal depression at 20 weeks of pregnancy. Crying behaviors were assessed via parental questionnaire at 2 months after delivery.

The results:

  1. Excessive infant crying, defined as more than 3 hours per day on more than 3 days per week, was observed in 110 kids, or 2.5% of the sample
  2. Maternal depression was not associated with infant crying; however
  3. Parental depression was significant associated with infant crying. Specifically, infants who showed excess crying were significantly more likely to have depressed fathers when compared to their peers.
  4. The effect of paternal depression was still noticeable even when controlling for maternal depression and other explanatory variables.

Previous research have been criticized because of  the practice of obtaining all information from the same source. For example, fathers are asked to report on their child’s behavior and also on their own behavior. This often results in “report bias” so that the father’s reports on the child’s behavior may not be accurate and instead may be affected by their own behavior. However, this particular study has some strengths that help reduced the potential for report bias. Specifically, the study was prospective. Thus, parents reported on their depression  during pregnancy and then reported on the child’s crying months later. This helps reduce the chance that the parents reports on the child’s crying was affected by their own emotional state at that time. In addition, the prospective nature of the study helps control for the effect of the child on the parent. That is, babies with significant colic are more likely to elicit stress on their parents possibly leading to depression. However, since this study showed that parental depression prior to the birth of the baby was associated with excessive crying, the child’s distress could not be the cause of the parental depression (at least the depression experienced before birth). All in all, this study provides further evidence that fathers mental health during birth and early childhood have a significant impact on the baby’s development.

The reference: van den Berg, M., van der Ende, J., Crijnen, A., Jaddoe, V., Moll, H., Mackenbach, J., Hofman, A., Hengeveld, M., Tiemeier, H., & Verhulst, F. (2009). Paternal Depressive Symptoms During Pregnancy Are Related to Excessive Infant Crying PEDIATRICS, 124 (1) DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-3100

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2 Responses to Fathers’ depression during pregnancy related to excessive infant crying

  1. farouk says:

    if a crying baby causes stress to the parent then it makes a lot of sense that a prolonged stress can lead to depression

  2. [...] There are interesting articles on research findings relating to excess infant crying. [...]

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