Petersen, I. B., & Quinlivan, J. A. (2020). Fatherhood too soon. Anxiety, depression and quality of life in fathers of preterm and term babies: A longitudinal study. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, Early View Online First.
Introduction: Fathers are increasingly recognized as playing a critical role in the family unit and emotional development of children. The birth of a preterm baby can be confronting, yet there is limited research that explores how preterm birth might impact on father’s emotional wellbeing and quality of life. The aim of the study was to monitor quality of life and psychological wellbeing in a group of fathers to explore if a preterm birth altered outcomes in these two domains.
Methods: Institutional ethics committee approval was obtained. Australian men (N = 1000) were recruited in the antenatal period via their pregnant partner, and completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) in the third trimester and again 6 weeks after the birth of their baby. Birth records were independently audited to determine which fathers experienced preterm birth.
Results: Data was available for 1000 and 950 fathers at each time point. Overall, 72 (7.2%) of fathers experienced preterm birth and 928 (92.8%) had a term birth. Fathers of preterm infants were significantly older (p = 0.002) and less likely to be married or in a defacto relationship (p = 0.043). Preterm babies were more likely to be delivered by cesarean section, have a low birthweight and require admission to a special care or neonatal intensive care unit (p < 0.001). There were no significant differences in HADS total, anxiety or depression subscale and SWLS scores in the antenatal period. Six weeks after the birth, fathers of preterm babies were significantly more likely to meet the case criteria for anxiety compared to fathers of term babies (25 vs. 12%, p = 0.02). This was due to persisting anxiety in preterm fathers (p < 0.001). They also reported significantly lower SWLS scores compared to fathers of term infants (27.31 vs. 27.88, p = 0.011). However, there were no differences in depression or HADS total scores.
Conclusion: Following birth of a preterm baby, persisting anxiety may affect quality of life of fathers. Routine screening of fathers of preterm babies may identify men who could benefit from referral for psychological intervention.
preterm birth, fathers, anxiety, depression, quality of life