Paternal Depressive Symptoms During Pregnancy May Predict Excessive Infant Crying

News Author: Laurie Barclay, MD
CME Author: Charles P. Vega, MD, FAAFP

Paternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy may predict excessive infant crying, according to the results of a prospective, population-based study reported in the July issue of Pediatrics.

"Excessive infant crying, or infantile colic, is a common and often stress-inducing problem for parents that can ultimately result in child abuse," write Mijke P. van den Berg, MD, PhD, MA, from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues. "From previous research it is known that maternal depression is related to excessive crying, but so far little is known about the influence of paternal depression."

The Brief Symptom Inventory was used to collect data regarding maternal and paternal depressive symptoms at 20 weeks of pregnancy, and associations between these symptoms and excessive crying were evaluated in 4426 infants at age 2 months. Excessive crying was defined with Wessel’s criteria of crying more than 3 hours per day for more than 3 days in the previous week.

The risk of excessive infant crying was 1.29 higher per SD of paternal depressive symptoms (95% confidence interval, 1.09 -1.52) after adjusting for maternal depressive symptoms and other pertinent confounding factors.

"Our findings indicate that paternal depressive symptoms during pregnancy might be a risk factor for excessive infant crying," the study authors write. "This finding could be related to genetic transmission, interaction of a father with lasting depressive symptoms with the infant, or related indirectly through contextual stressors such as marital, familial, or economic distress."

Limitations of this study include possible false paternity, reliance on a questionnaire for collecting data on crying behavior, embedding of this study within a larger prospective study, and the possibility that parents with depressive symptoms might report differently on crying behavior.

"Although our findings are subject to some limitations and need to be replicated, they emphasize the importance of taking paternal factors into account when studying early infant behavior such as excessive crying," the study authors conclude.

The Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development supported this study. The study authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Pediatrics. 2009;124:e96-e103.

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