Becoming fathers: adverse childhood experiences, partner attachment and mental health before childbirth as related to later perception of their own children
Appears in the following Collection
- Psykologisk institutt 
AbstractThis dissertation is based on a prospective longitudinal study of fathers’ adverse childhood experiences, partner attachment style, anxious and depressive feelings during pregnancy, and experience of parenting stress in their own children’s first year of life. The study followed becoming fathers during pregnancy into fatherhood when the children were 6 and 12 months old. It is part of a Norwegian population based project, the Little in Norway (LiN) study, starting early in pregnancy. There is still a dearth of research on paternal mental health and attachment during pregnancy and in the transition to fatherhood. Norwegian fathers participate more actively in caregiving of their infants than former generations of fathers did, and their influence is important for children’s development. This underscores the importance of investigating paternal characteristics at an early point of time. The present dissertation is to the author’s knowledge one among few population based studies to focus specificially on the fathers during pregnancy and child infancy in relation to fathers’ mental health in the transition to fatherhood. Aims: The main aim of the study was to provide information about paternal mental health and developmental trajectories during pregnancy into fatherhood postpartum. For this purpose we used a prospective design comprising 878 prospective fathers and 1036 prospective mothers who contributed with data. First, we assessed the fathers’ social background and adverse childhood experiences and investigated how these factors were related to anxious and depressive feelings during pregnancy. Second, we studied prenatal predictors of perceived paternal stress in relation to how the fathers perceived their children’s behavioral characteristics when the child was 6 months old. Third, we expanded the number of possible prenatal antecedents of stress at child age 12 months by adding prenatal partner attachment style. Further, we assessed the stability of such parenting stress between child age 6 and 12 months. Results: We found (in paper I) that the number of adverse childhood experiences was significantly related to higher depressive and anxious feelings at several time points in pregnancy among the becoming fathers. We also showed (paper II) that fathers’ non-optimal mental health and adverse childhood experiences as measured during pregnancy predicted parenting stress in the child domain at six months postpartum, suggesting a negative perception of the children’s behavioral characteristics. We concluded (in paper III) that fathers’ adverse childhood experiences and partner attachment style did not significantly predict parenting stress in the child domain at 12 months postpartum directly, however, indirect associations via mediated pathways such as spousal disharmony were found. Furthermore, we documented some measure of stability of negative perception of child behavior from child age 6 to 12 months. Conclusions: The overall findings add to the extant knowledge that fathers’ own childhood experiences, mental health and their partner attachment style before fatherhood are concordantly associated and further associated with their experiences of parenting stress after birth. Also, the findings show that spousal disharmony after child birth contributed to paternal stress and a negative perception of the child’s behavioral characteristics. Fathers participate more actively in caregiving for their infants than fathers did formerly, underscoring the importance of considering fathers’ background in terms of risk factors when providing support to prospective families and later, after the child is born. This work shows that early predictors are associated with postpartum spousal disharmony, which in turn influences parenting stress and how fathers percieve their child’s behavior in infancy. Family interventions ought to take place right on in pregnancy in order to prevent later parenting stress.
List of papers
|Paper I: Skjothaug, T., Smith, L., Wentzel-Larsen, T., & Moe V. (2014). Prospective fathers’adverse childhood experiences, pregnancy-related anxiety, and depression during pregnancy. Infant Mental Health Journal, 00(0), 1-8. The paper is not available in DUO due to publisher restrictions. The published version will be available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/imhj.21485|
|Paper II: Skjothaug, T., Smith, L., Wentzel-Larsen, T., & Moe V. (2018). Do fathers’ prenatal mental health bear a relationship to parenting stress at six months? 00(0), 1-13. The paper is not available in DUO due to publisher restrictions. The published version will be available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/imhj.21739|
|Paper III: Skjothaug, T., Smith, L., Wentzel-Larsen, T., Stänicke, E., & Moe V. (2018). Antecedents of fathers’ perception of child behavior at child age 12 months. To be published. The paper is not available in DUO awaiting publishing.|