Support from Dads Might Offset Effects of Maternal Depression

Father and son laying on carpetChildren raised by parents with depression may experience a range of challenges, including delays in social and cognitive development, an increased risk of some mental health conditions, and behavioral issues. Dads may have a role in helping children overcome these difficulties. According to a new study published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, dads can offset some of the effects of maternal depression.

Fathers Can Reduce Effects of Maternal Depression

The study followed married or cohabiting couples in which the mother had chronic depression. Researchers screened each mother for depression in the year following birth and again when the child was 6 years old. They also visited and taped families when the child was in preschool. The visits screened for sensitivity—the ability to respond appropriately to the child’s needs. They also screened for intrusiveness, which the study defines as the tendency to disregard the needs of the child or take over tasks the child could perform on their own.

Depressed mothers and their partners were less sensitive and more intrusive. This resulted in children with lower levels of social engagement. The partners of women with depression did not frequently engage with their children, producing a less cohesive and harmonious family. In this regard, maternal depression—and the partner behavior that accompanies it—predicted family problems.

Among fathers who were engaging, sensitive, and nonintrusive, maternal depression was no longer a predictor for a less cohesive family. The study points to the importance of fathers in child welfare and overall family well-being, particularly when mothers are not as well-equipped to meet children’s needs.

Depression and Women

Depression disproportionately affects women. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), as many as 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression following the birth of a child. Research suggests more support, including from a partner, can reduce the risk and severity of postpartum depression. For example, a 2013 study found women who lacked social support were five times as likely to develop postpartum depression.

Depression is also common outside of the postpartum period. The study reports 15-18% of mothers in industrialized nations have depression, 30% of mothers in developing nations experience depression.


  1. Kim, T. H., Connolly, J. A., & Tamim, H. (2014). The effect of social support around pregnancy on postpartum depression among Canadian teen mothers and adult mothers in the maternity experiences survey. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 14(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-162
  2. Paul, M. (2013, March 13). Surprising rate of women have depression after childbirth. Retrieved from
  3. Positive father-child relationship can moderate negative effects of maternal depression. (2017, May 11). Retrieved from
  4. What is postpartum depression and anxiety? (n.d.). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Taylor

    May 17th, 2017 at 11:03 AM

    and would it conversely be true that maternal interaction could offset the effects of paternal depression?

  • Rhea

    May 20th, 2017 at 5:58 AM

    It is such a blessing when children have BOTH parents who can be involved in their lives and who take an active interest in doing so

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