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Stress in Pregnancy a Health Risk for the Child

aavanEyck_1434_ArnolfiniMarriageAn anxious expectant father can make a pregnant woman more anxious, and their combined higher level of stress can have a negative influence on the health of their newborn child. While it is a well-known fact that significant mental distress in pregnant women due to anxiety, lack of social support or low self-esteem can result in higher health risks for the infant child, the impact of fathers’ anxiety heretofore had not been examined.

A new study shows that the stress related to pregnancy uniquely affects the mental health of expectant fathers, and that this in turn also has an effect on the health of expectant mothers and their infants. A University of Missouri researcher arrived at these conclusions by examining the underlying factors of the Prenatal Psychosocial Profile as a composite measure of stress, support from partner, support from others and self-esteem; and compared factor structures between pregnant women and expectant fathers.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing was conducted on 132 expectant mothers and fathers in a sample of 66 low-income couples living in rural Missouri between 2006 and 2008.

Similarities and unique differences between expectant fathers and mothers were found. Among the stress factors, ‘problems related to family’, ‘the current pregnancy’ and ‘feeling generally overloaded’ were perceived as financial stressors by men but as emotional stressors by women. In terms of perceived partner support, women believed they were receiving more tangible support from their partners through actions such as help with tasks or care, while men felt that they were receiving more emotional support.

Among study participants, women had higher self-esteem than men during pregnancy. The assessment of psychosocial well-being in both women and men during pregnancy, especially careful assessment of stressors of pregnancy is deemed useful not only in establishing stress levels and providing adequate stress management tools to both men and women, but most especially in ensuring that reduced levels of stress and anxiety are less likely to impact the health of their infant child.