Premature births are often associated with maternal factors. Now, a new study found that even expectant fathers can also influence the birth of their child.

Swedish scientists have found a link between paternal depression and their babies being born prematurely.

The results of the study have shown that expectant fathers with newly diagnosed depression heighten the risk of very premature birth by 38 percent. Those who had recurrent depression, however, did not increase the risk.

Meanwhile, mothers with new or recurrent depression increase the likelihood of having moderately premature births by 30 to 40 percent.

"This study highlights the importance of treating depression for both men and women, and the impact untreated depression can have on the health of offspring," said John Thorp, the deputy editor-in-chief of BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, where the study was published.

To come up with their findings, the researchers examined more than 350,000 births from 2007 to 2012. They focused on two types of premature births. The first one is very premature birth or those born between the 21st to the 31st week of pregnancy. The second category is the moderately premature or those born between the 32nd to the 36th week of pregnancy.

The expectant parents were classified as clinically depressed if they had taken anti-depressants or have received hospital care 12 months before the child was conceived or before the second trimester.

Anders Hjern, from the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm said that paternal depression may affect the quality of sperm, the baby's DNA and the quality of placenta. He added that the absence of link between recurrent paternal depression and premature birth signifies that receiving treatments for the condition may perhaps reduce the risk.

Stress in expectant mothers may lead to premature birth. Likewise, Hjern said that paternal depression is a significant source of that maternal stress.

The researchers said that a depressed father may have limited support to his partner and eventually to the baby.

Unlike women, men's depressive symptoms are characterized by extreme irritability and anger, which may be perceived as particularly more stressful.

The researchers also pointed out that men are less likely to consult a professional for help. With this, they think it would be beneficial to have a proactive approach toward improving wellness among expectant fathers. "No-one should suffer in silence - there is help and support available," said Dr. Patrick O'Brien from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Photo: Chris Connelly | Flickr

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