We read about maternal depression quite a lot but not much has been written about paternal depression.
Maternal depression greatly affects a child’s development during the postpartum months. Moms who suffer from this have been found to be less attentive and responsive.
Many women who struggle with this during pregnancy also struggle with deciding whether to go for medication or therapy in dealing with it.
Though taking antidepressants can be helpful to women who suffer from depression during pregnancy, past studies have found that this puts their unborn babies at risk for developing heart defects. These medications may also increase the risk for premature birth and miscarriage.
What is yet to be confirmed, though, is whether paternal depression poses the same health risks as postpartum depression.
A new study claims that there is, in fact, a link between premature births and paternal depression.
New vs. recurrent depression
The study, conducted in Sweden, focused on 350,000 births over a period of about 5 years. Researchers claim that they have found a connection between preterm birth (22-36 weeks gestation) and paternal depression.
The moms and dads included in the study were defined as those who have been taking prescribed antidepressants or have undergone hospital treatment for the condition.
Bouts of depression were then divided into two categories: new and recurrent. New depressive episodes were those experienced by parents who have not had prior episodes a year before they were diagnosed.
Episodes in the recurrent category, however, were from those who repeatedly suffer from depression.
The study found that the risk for premature birth in moms with depression rose to about 30 to 40 percent.
Paternal depression increased this same risk by about 38 percent. However, recurrent paternal depression did not seem to be linked with premature birth.
Those with recurrent depression most likely have a support network in place so the stress on their wives to care for them is significantly lessened.
Leader of the study, Anders Hjern of the Centre for Health Equity Studies, said: ”Since men are less likely to seek professional help, a proactive approach towards targeting the wellbeing of expectant fathers may be beneficial.”
READ: She’s battling depression but husband shares why he loves her
Premature births can also be caused by shared parental stress. Find out more on the next page
What is shared parental stress?
Partners of those on antidepressants may encounter emotional difficulties when caring for a depressed partner.
Having to care for the father of your child while you’re expecting can be a great source of stress for any mom.
Aside from increasing the risk of premature births, paternal depression can also affect men’s sperm quality as well as the baby’s genetic development, and placental function.
“Our results suggest that both maternal and paternal depression should be considered in preterm birth prevention strategies, and both parents should be screened for mental health problems,” emphasises Anders Hjern. “Since men are less likely to seek professional help, a proactive approach towards targeting the wellbeing of expectant fathers may be beneficial”.
More studies needed
But the study does not claim to have the final say on the matter.
Since the whole study is hinged on the definition of a depressed parent as someone who takes antidepressants, the effect of paternal depression may have been overestimated.
But antidepressants serve a variety of functions, like treating anxiety or chronic pain. These variables, the study seemed to have left out.
Typically, men don’t seek treatment or diagnosis for depression. In the Philippines, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
Patrick O’Brien, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians told WIRED UK.”This research is interesting, as it finds that paternal mental health can also have an effect on the health of the baby. However, more research is needed to establish the mechanism behind this effect,”
“Further progress is needed into the understanding of how depression of either parent affects pregnancy in order to help prevent preterm birth,” says O’Brien. “We encourage anyone, and particularly those planning a family or who are pregnant, and are experiencing a change in mood, irritability or anxiety to seek advice. No one should suffer in silence — there is help and support available.”
READ: Even moms of older kids can get postpartum depression too
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