What is it about?

Maternal postnatal depression is common and has negative impact on child development. However, negative consequences of maternal postnatal depression are not universal for all children. Insights into factors that may increase or reduce the risk of negative development in children whose mothers experience depression may help to develop interventions to support families and improve child outcomes. Parenting is one factor that explains some of the negative influence of maternal depression on the child. Research has mostly focused on maternal parenting, including sensitivity and involvement, while the role of paternal parenting is less understood. Paternal involvement may be particularly important in the context of maternal depression because of the role that fathers play in supporting the mother and caring for the child. This study examined the impact of maternal postnatal depression on child development and the role that different dimensions of paternal involvement play when mothers experience depression. We also took into account a range of socioeconomic, familial and parental characteristics, including paternal own mental health. We found that maternal postnatal depression was a strong risk factor for negative child development with only one dimension of paternal involvement, conflictual father-child relationship, emerging as a mechanisms that explained negative influence of maternal depression on the child.

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Why is it important?

We approached paternal involvement as a multi-dimensional construct to examine the extent to which different aspects of paternal involvement explain negative impact of maternal postnatal depression on child development, while also accounting for paternal mental health. Our findings suggest that both maternal and paternal involvement and mental health need to be considered when one parent presents with depression. Recognising importance of paternal involvement and addressing paternal mental health will support fathers and improve their ability to support their partners and children. It may also be important to include fathers in the treatment of maternal depression through partner-assisted therapies. Interventions that reduce father-child conflict may hold promise in reducing negative impact of maternal postnatal depression on the child. It is important to emphasise that maternal postnatal depression remained a strong risk factor for negative child development even in the context of paternal involvement. This suggests that addressing maternal postnatal depression remains a key factor to improve child outcomes.


Writing this article was a great pleasure and enabled me to develop collaborations with co-authors from different but related disciplines (epidemiology and sociology) to provide insights into paternal involvement and its importance for child development in the context of maternal depression.

Iryna Culpin
University of Bristol

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This page is a summary of: Maternal postnatal depressive symptoms and offspring emotional and behavioral development at age 7 years in a U.K. birth cohort: The role of paternal involvement., Developmental Psychology, November 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/dev0001482.
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