Fathers ‘can help offset postnatal depression’

family life

The presence of an involved father in a child’s life can offset the the negative influence of maternal depression, new research suggests.

A team from Bar-Ilan University in Israel studied a representative sample of mothers , some married and some cohabiting, who had been assessed for depression. They visisted them at home to observe and record interactions within the families.

Postnatal and more general maternal depression is estimated to effect more than 15 per cent of women in industrial societies and twice that many in still developing countries. Previous studies have suggested that a depressed mothers have a significant impact on children’s mental and emotional development.

The team noted this effect in the study: depressed mothers showed poor senstivity to their children’s moods and were more likely to behave an intrusive way, imposing themselves unnecessarily on their offspring and giving little though to their feelings. This in turn caused the children to emotionally and socially withdraw and as a result family life deteriorated.

But, the Bar-Ilan team found, if the children’s father fully engaged with them, playing and interacting with the youngsters and talking to them in a sensitive manner, the mother’s depression no longer had a corrosive effect on the overall quality of the family’s life together.

Lead researcher Professor Ruth Feldman explained:

“When fathers rise to the challenge of co-parenting with a chronically depressed mother, become invested in the father–child relationship despite little modeling [support] from their wives, and form a sensitive, nonintrusive, and reciprocal relationship with the child that fosters his/her social involvement and participation, fathering can buffer the spillover from maternal depression to the family atmosphere.”

The research was published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.

Photo by Katrin Albaum via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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