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Paternal Stress Leads to Behavioral Challenges in Offspring
January 8, 2013
You may already be aware of how stress impacts both male fertility and female fertility, but did you know paternal stress levels might also impact fetal development?
A study published yesterday in Pediatrics, says a father’s mental health during pregnancy may be just as influential to the child’s behavioral development as the mother’s mental health during pregnancy. Results suggest children of stressed fathers are at greater risk for behiavoral problems by the time they reach 3 years of age.
The study examined data from a family study of over 31,000 Norwegian children. Questionnaires were distributed to the parents of these children during pregnancy, at birth, and again at 3 years of age. At approximately 18 weeks’ gestation, three percent of fathers reported high levels of psychological distress; results that correlated to the frequency of emotional, social, and cognitive dysfunction in the children at age three. Higher levels of paternal stress were linked to greater intensity of behavioral problems in the 3-year-old children.
The study controlled for substance abuse, parental age, and maternal mental health.
The link between paternal mental health and offspring behavioral problems may be explained by genetics, as mental illness can run in families. Additionally, the father’s stress may have impacted the pregnant mother’s mental health. Stress raises cortisol levels which may have impacted brain development of the fetus.
The results of this study are not representative of all cases, but suggest there is a greater need for mental health screening and stress management, both for expectant fathers and mothers.