Both a mother’s and father’s mental health are associated with increased risk that their baby will be born premature, a new study has found.
The research, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and published in EClinicalMedicine, found men with persistent mental health problems through adolescence and young adulthood were more likely to have a baby born premature and women with anxiety and depression during pregnancy were more likely to have a preterm birth.
Study co-lead MCRI’S and Deakin University’s Dr Elizabeth Spry that fathers were often neglected in research on children’s early growth and development.
“We found that men with persistent mental health symptoms in the decades leading up to pregnancy were more likely to have premature babies. Our study joins growing evidence of the important role that fathers play in the health and development of their children, and suggests that these links begin well before babies are conceived,” she said.
“Most research on children’s early development has focused on mums. This means that public health recommendations are also almost entirely focused on what mums should and shouldn’t do when planning pregnancy or having a child. In contrast, men receive very little guidance or support.”
In response to this, new father Aaron shares how the premature birth of 25 week daughter Charlotte-Rose has affected him.
“After reading the research it hit home that my mental health can affect my wife and child in more ways than one. As a male who recently experienced the effects of a pre-term birth, support services whilst available are generalised and hard to find for Dads, with the focus of support services predominantly aimed at the mother.” Aaron Pillar
“I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), severe Anxiety and Major Depressive disorder along with Adjustment Disorder in early 2017. I believe that my mental health can obviously affect those close to me, mainly my wife and after reading your report it hit home that it could potentially effect my wife in more ways than one. It makes sense that when she is stressing out because I am having a bad day that this could be past to the baby and potential stress the baby out.
Suffering from poor mental health is hard enough without throwing in the stress of pregnancy. As a male who recently experienced the effects of a pre term birth of my beautiful daughter I can believe that there is a lack of support to the father, maybe not a lack, but its not easy to find support.
As a male and first time Dad I found that during the pregnancy I found it extremely hard to relate to what my wife was going through and at times felt useless and helpless.
My wife had a small bleed at around the 8-week mark of the pregnancy and luckily it was just a scare, but unless you turn to Dr Google you wouldn’t know that its common for a woman to bleed during the first stage.
From then on both my wife and I were on high alert for any more scares, every scan was a relief, however due to the current Covid Pandemic we did not have much contact with medical staff and a lot of the times felt left in the dark.
Upon being told my 25 week pregnant wife was 4cm dilated my anxiety really kicked in. I was calling both our parents in the early hours of the morning and having to give them up to date updates which was extremely hard whilst holding back anxiety attacks. At no point was I ever offered much, if any mental support. At the time I didn’t think of it and believed that the priority was my wife.
But now looking back it may have been very helpful if there was some sort of support for me to help me be there to support and be there for every need of my wife. It was extremely hard to keep up whilst I was having multiple Anxiety attacks and having to come to terms that we may be faced with tragedy and it was up to me to be the rock.
Again, I felt completely helpless as I am sure many fathers feel during the labour stage, you can’t take away the pain of your loved one, You can’t take over and give her a break, all you can do is sit in the corner and hold her and watch her pain grow as the further in she gets.
During her labour I suffered through 7 anxiety attacks, normally one would put me out of action for the day, but I had to wipe away the tears and come back in the room and continue to support her.
Then the real hard work begins! Baby has finally arrived and as fast as she is brought into the world she is taken to the NICU with me struggling to keep up, all these doctors and nurses are all working on her. Then the long rollercoaster really begins with each millstone seeming impossible, not only am I worried about my daughter but now I am watching my wife like a hawk as she begins blaming herself for not being able to keep baby in the womb.
Thankfully she has had amazing support from many of the organisations such as Life’s Little Treasures, I feel that whilst I am welcome to join in conversations it predominately other mothers, there is not many organisations that are there for the father. With the current COVID restrictions I don’t get to interact with other fathers going through the same journey within the NICU. I feel that in many cases the father is left out. Many people will always ask me “How’s the baby going”? and “How is your wife”? very rare do I get asked how am I going?”
If you’d like more information specifically for Dads, including a downloadable tip sheet go here.
PANDA National Helpline : 1300 726 306
(Monday to Friday, 9am-7.30pm AEST/AEDT)
If you’d like to speak to someone, PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline is a comprehensive telephone counselling and support service which provides a safe and confidential space for parents struggling with the challenges of becoming a new parent. The helpline is free and is made up of a team of experienced counsellors.
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