Postnatal Depressive Symptoms Among Mothers and Fathers of Infants Born Preterm: Prevalence and Impacts on Children's Early Cognitive Function


OBJECTIVE: Preterm birth is associated with lower cognitive functioning. One potential pathway is postnatal parental depression. The authors assessed depressive symptoms in mothers and fathers after preterm birth, and identified the impacts of both prematurity and parental depressive symptoms on children's early cognitive function. METHOD: Data were from the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (n = 5350). Depressive symptoms at 9 months were assessed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD) and children's cognitive function at 24 months by the Bayley Short Form, Research Edition. Weighted generalized estimating equation models examined the extent to which preterm birth, and mothers' and fathers' postnatal depressive symptoms impacted children's cognitive function at 24 months, and whether the association between preterm birth and 24-month cognitive function was mediated by parental depressive symptoms. RESULTS: At 9 months, fathers of very preterm (<32 weeks gestation) and moderate/late preterm (32-37 weeks gestation) infants had higher CESD scores than fathers of term-born (≥37 weeks gestation) infants (p value = .02); preterm birth was not associated with maternal depressive symptoms. In multivariable analyses, preterm birth was associated with lower cognitive function at 24 months; this association was unaffected by adjustment for parental depressive symptoms. Fathers', but not mothers', postnatal depressive symptoms predicted lower cognitive function in the fully adjusted model (β = -0.11, 95% confidence interval, -0.18 to -0.03). CONCLUSION: Fathers of preterm infants have more postnatal depressive symptomology than fathers of term-born infants. Fathers' depressive symptoms also negatively impact children's early cognitive function. The national findings support early identification and treatment of fathers of preterm infants with depressive symptoms

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