Dads' Post-Natal Depression May Affect Their Teenage Daughters

By Kelly Burch 01/31/19

A new study found a connection between paternal depression and the later depression of their female offspring. 

A father dealing with post-natal depression

There’s been much more attention given to maternal mental health in recent years, but a new study suggests that paternal mental health is also important to the long-term health of children, particularly daughters. 

The study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, examined more than 3,000 pairs of parents and children to try to understand how depression in a parent can increase depression risk in their offspring. The authors found that when dads are depressed during the postnatal period (8 weeks after a baby’s birth), their daughters are more likely to have symptoms of depression when they turn 18. 

Interestingly, the study found that when dad is depressed, the mother may be more likely to have depression as well. In turn, this can affect the child, even in the long-term. 

“Depression in fathers in the postnatal period has potential implications for family and child functioning into late childhood and adolescence; it should be addressed in perinatal services, and both parents should be considered when 1 presents with depression,” study authors wrote.

The connection between paternal depression and the depression of offspring was seen in girls, but not in boys. 

“The association between paternal depression in the postnatal period and depression in girls at age 18 years is partially explained by maternal depression,” study authors wrote. 

More research has been delving into how fatherhood affect men’s mental health. Last year, research suggested that fathers can experience hormonal changes after the birth of a baby, which can lead to depression and affect the function of the whole family.

Darby Saxbe, an assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and lead author of that study told Science Daily that we are still learning how fatherhood affects men. 

"We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy. We don't usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms. We are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick,” Saxbe said. 

Having a healthy father in the home can help improve outcomes for children. 

"We know that fathers contribute a lot to child-rearing and that on the whole, kids do better if they are raised in households with a father present," Saxbe said. "So, it is important to figure out how to support fathers and what factors explain why some fathers are very involved in raising their children while some are absent."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.