Mental Health Trajectories of Fathers Following Very Preterm Birth: Associations With Parenting

Grace E. McMahon, Peter J. Anderson, Rebecca Giallo, Carmen C. Pace, Jeanie L. Cheong, Lex W. Doyle, Alicia J. Spittle, Megan M. Spencer-Smith, Karli Treyvaud

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12 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: Mothers of infants born very preterm (VPT) are at high risk of mental health difficulties. However, less is known about the course of fathers' depressive and anxiety symptoms over time, and the implications this may have for early parenting behaviors. METHODS: In total, 100 fathers of 125 infants born VPT (<30 weeks' gestation) completed questionnaires assessing depressive and anxiety symptoms shortly after their infant's birth, and when their infant reached term-equivalent age, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months' corrected age. At 12 months' corrected age, fathers' parenting behaviors were assessed using the Emotional Availability Scales. Longitudinal latent class analysis was used to identify trajectories of fathers' depressive and anxiety symptoms, and linear regression equations examined relationships between these trajectories and fathers' parenting behaviors. RESULTS: For both depressive and anxiety symptoms, two distinct trajectories were identified. For depression, most fathers were assigned to the persistently low symptom trajectory (82%), while the remainder were assigned to the persistently high symptom trajectory (18%). For anxiety, 49% of fathers were assigned to the persistently low symptom trajectory, while 51% were assigned to the trajectory characterized by moderate symptoms over the first postnatal year. There were no significant differences in parenting behaviors between fathers assigned to the different depressive and anxiety symptom trajectories. CONCLUSIONS: Fathers of infants born VPT are at risk of chronic depressive and anxiety symptoms over the first postnatal year, highlighting the need for screening and ongoing support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-735
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Pediatric Psychology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • anxiety
  • depression
  • fathers
  • parent–child interaction
  • prematurity

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