Emotional Struggles of Expectant Parents Have Impact on Babies
Behaviour of babies will be
impacted by the emotional struggles expectant parents go through before
delivery, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Universities of
Cambridge, Birmingham, New York and Leiden.
The study reported in Development and Psychopathology has reviewed the experiences of 438 first time expectatn mothers and fathers. The babies born to them were evaluated at the age of 4 months, 14 and 24 months. The pre-natal emotional well-being has a direct influence on the emotional outcome of a baby by the age of two years. Parents who suffered prenatal stress and anxiety were likely to see behavioural problems in their child including restlessness, spitefulnes and temper tantrums.
The researchers also found that two-year-olds were more likely to exhibit emotional problems – including being worried, unhappy and tearful; scaring easily; or being clingy in new situations – if their parents had been having early postnatal relationship problems. These ranged from a general lack of happiness in the relationship to rows and other kinds of conflict.
Links between child outcomes and parental wellbeing have been shown in other studies, but this is the first to involve couples, track parental wellbeing in both parents over an extended period of time, and focus on child behaviour in the first two years of life. While there is growing evidence for the importance of mental health support for expectant and new mothers, this study highlights the need to extend this support to expectant fathers and to go beyond individual well-being to consider the quality of new mothers’ and fathers’ couple relationships.
The researchers acknowledge that genetic factors are likely to play a role but they accounted for parents’ mental health difficulties prior to their first pregnancy and after their child’s birth. Co-author Dr Rory Devine, a developmental psychologist at the University of Birmingham, says “Our data demonstrate that mental health problems during pregnancy have a unique impact on children’s behaviour problems.”
Using standardized questionnaires and in-person interviews, participating mothers and fathers reported on their symptoms of anxiety and depression in the third trimester of pregnancy and when their child was 4, 14 and 24 months old. At each of these visits, parents also completed standardized questionnaire measures of couple relationship quality and children’s emotions and behaviour.