Background: Pediatric anticipatory guidance has been associated with parenting behaviors that promote positive infant development. Maternal postpartum depression is known to negatively affect parenting and may prevent mothers from following anticipatory guidance. The effects of postpartum depression in fathers on parenting is understudied.
Objective: Our purpose with this work was to examine the effects of maternal and paternal depression on parenting behaviors consistent with anticipatory guidance recommendations.
Methods: The 9-month-old wave of data from a national study of children and their families, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, provided data on 5089 2-parent families. Depressive symptoms were measured with a short form of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Interviews with both parents provided data on parent health behaviors and parent-infant interactions. Logistic and linear regression models were used to estimate the association between depression in each parent and the parenting behaviors of interest. These models were adjusted for demographic and socioeconomic status indicators.
Results: In this national sample, 14% of mothers and 10% of fathers exhibited levels of depressive symptoms on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale that have been associated with clinical diagnoses, confirming other findings of a high prevalence of postpartum maternal depression but highlighting that postpartum depression is a significant issue for fathers as well. Mothers who were depressed were approximately 1.5 times more likely to engage in less healthy feeding and sleep practices with their infant. In both mothers and fathers, depressive symptoms were negatively associated with positive enrichment activity with the child (reading, singing songs, and telling stories).
Conclusions: Postpartum depression is a significant problem in both mothers and fathers in the United States. It is associated with undesirable parent health behaviors and fewer positive parent-infant interactions.