Fathers who are more involved with parenting their infants right after they are born were less likely to be depressed a year later, according to a study conducted by Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Olajide Bamishigbin and a team of researchers.
The study, one of the first to focus on a larger community sample of low-income fathers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, is leading the way for further research into paternal well-being and how a father’s contributions impact the health of the mother and child.
The findings, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, support the idea of paternity leave and might also help in designing tools and programs for expecting fathers to make them feel better equipped for parenting, Bamishigbin said.
“There’s lots of research on maternal depression, but far less on how fathers are depressed in the first year after their child’s birth,” he said. “Fathers are important members of the family, so it’s important we don’t exclude them from the research."
The investigators conducted home interviews with 881 low-income ethnically and racially diverse fathers in the United States. One month after the child’s birth, researchers examined three parenting indicators: time spent with the infant, material support (providing diapers, food, clothing) and parenting self-efficacy (how confident the fathers felt doing parenting tasks such as changing diapers, preparing bottles). They also assessed paternal depressive symptoms at one, six and 12 months after the child’s birth using the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale.
The researchers found that all three parenting indicators predicted lower risks of depressive symptoms during the first year of the child’s life. These findings suggest that if fathers are more involved with their infants, the entire family’s mental health may fare better, Bamishigbin said.
The study's findings are important for future research on the contributors to father involvement, the effects of early involvement, the link between parental self-efficacy and depression and the relationship between paternal and maternal depression. The researchers suggest a deeper understanding of these variables and related topics could be helpful in shaping public policies and designing helpful tools and programs for expecting fathers.
"Being involved with your kids isn’t only better for them, it’s also better for the father’s own health,” he said. “Our study shows there may be tangible things fathers can do to improve their mental health after the birth of their child."
Bamishigbin stresses the importance of paid paternity leave since spending time with their children is better for a father's mental health. Paid paternity leave would allow fathers to be more involved with their children and gain confidence as a parent, without worrying about financial security.
“How are you going to develop the skills to become a more competent father if you’re not given the opportunity?” he said. “Fathers shouldn’t have to make the choice between their families or their jobs. We need to allow fathers the opportunity to get involved."
Bamishigbin's study collaborators were Dawn K. Wilson and Demetrius A. Abshire at the University of South Carolina, Cilia Mejia-Lancheros, St. Michael’s Hospital in Ontario, Canada, and Christine Dunkel Schetter at UCLA.