Background: Perinatal research on anxiety and depression has primarily focused on mothers. We have limited knowledge of fathers' anxiety during the perinatal period yet there is evidence that the parenting capacity of a person can be compromised by anxiety and depression. The purpose of this paper is to identify the impact of a father inclusive intervention on perinatal anxiety and depression. The prime focus of the intervention was to provide education and support to fathers of breastfeeding partners with the aim of increasing both initiation and duration of breastfeeding.
Methods: A repeated measures cohort study was conducted during a RCT that was implemented across eight public maternity hospitals in Perth, Western Australia between May 2008 and June 2009. A baseline questionnaire which included the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) was administered to all participants on the first night of their hospital based antenatal education program and was repeated at six weeks postnatal. SPSS version 17 was used for reporting descriptive results.
Results: The mean anxiety levels at baseline for the fathers in the intervention group (n=289) and control group (n=244) were 4.58 and 4.22 respectively. At 6 weeks postnatal (only matched pairs), intervention and control group were 3.93 and 3.79. More intervention group fathers self-rated less anxiety compared to the fathers in the control group from baseline to post test (p=0.048). Depression scores for intervention fathers at baseline (mean=1.09) and at six weeks (mean=1.09) were very similar to fathers in the control group at baseline (mean=1.11) and at six weeks (mean=1.07) with no significant changes.
Conclusions: Both intervention and control group fathers experienced some anxiety prior to the birth of their baby, but this was rapidly reduced at six weeks. Paternal anxiety is common to new fathers and providing them with information and strategies for problem-solving can increase their knowledge and potentially lower the risk of postnatal anxiety.
Trial registration: (Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12609000667213).