Post-natal depression a struggle for one in six fathers of premature babies

CHICAGO — Giving birth to a premature baby can be a heart-wrenching experience for moms and dads alike. The uncertainty and stress leaves new parents in a state of constant worry and can continue well after their infant finally leaves the hospital. But doctors say the number of preemie dads suffering mental health effects deserves greater attention. A new study shows that while third of mothers of preemies understandably battle post-natal depression, one in six fathers struggle with the condition, too.

The findings showing the large number of dads suffering from post-natal depression is alarming, say medical experts. Researchers discovered screening predicts the likelihood of parents having depressive symptoms in the baby’s first month at home.

“Our findings point to the need for increased attention to the mental health of new fathers, during their baby’s NICU stay and after discharge,” says study lead author Dr. Craig Garfield, the founder and director of the Family & Child Health Innovations Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, in a statement. “This is crucial, not only for the well-being of new parents but also for the optimal development of their child.”

Garfield and his team screened parents of premature babies for depression over a month. Depression scores for mothers decreased significantly, but fathers stayed the same.

“The unanticipated difference we found in the trajectory of depression symptoms between mothers and fathers after bringing their premature baby home underscores the importance of reaching out to fathers, who might not even be aware that they need help or know where to turn when in persistent distress.”

The researchers screened 431 parents using the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale (EDPS). Parents were tested upon arrival in the neonatal unit, as well as during discharge from the hospital. They were screened again after two weeks and again 30 days later.

Previous research discovered depressed fathers are less likely to engage in parenting activities such as reading to their child.

The team discovered the probability of reporting depression symptoms after the baby came home declined for mothers, but not fathers.

“We need programs that universally screen both parents for depression, proactively educate the family about potential symptoms and offer mental health support during this stressful time, leading up to discharge and after going home,” says Garfield.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

SWNS writer Olivia Devereux-Evans contributed to this report.