Depression, poor birth experience and stress are linked in fathers as well as mothers (Switzerland)

birth experience

A study of 140 couples has shown that depressive symptoms in a father during pregnancy and a negative subjective birth experience were independently predictive of depressive symptoms and acute stress reactions four weeks after the birth. These correlations exist also for women, but fathers have not been looked at in this way before. Similarly, a father’s negative birth experience predicts later depressive symptoms and acute stress reactions, again as for mothers.

The study, which took place in Berne, Switzerland, measured in both parents:

  • depressive symptoms in the third trimester of the pregnancy (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale);
  • subjective birth experience one week after the birth (Salmon’s Item List, assessing things like sense of fulfilment, physical discomfort, emotional experiences);
  • depressive symptoms (a second time) four weeks after the birth;
  • stress reactions following the birth four weeks after the birth (Impact of Event Scale – revised, assessing things like intrusive thoughts, feelings of numbness, irritability and anger).

Correlations existed after controlling for parental age, mode of delivery, parity, epidural anaesthesia, infant gender and birth weight.

Whilst there was little correlation between mothers and fathers’ depressive symptoms antenatally, there was some correlation in all the postnatal tests. Perhaps this reflects the fact that the couple has been through an intense shared life-experience together.

Depressive symptoms antenatally in fathers predicted a poor subjective birth experience for them, but no such correlation was found in mothers. Perhaps the absence of such a correlation in mothers arises from them under-reporting negative birth experiences through dissociation during and after the event.

A father’s poor birth experience correlated with a mother’s acute stress reaction reported at four weeks after the birth. Again, dissociation on the part of the mother may be masking a connection between her own trauma around the birth and her later stress.

The authors conclude the article with a challenge to the mother-baby dyadic structure of birth in a health setting: “The birth experience in a two-parent family is triadic, and both parents’ reaction to it are important.”


Gürbera S, Baumelera L, Grobb A, Surbekc D & Stadlmayr W (2017), Antenatal depressive symptoms and subjective birth experience in association with postpartum depressive symptoms and acute stress reaction in mothers and fathers: A longitudinal path analysis, European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology 215

Photo: Tatiana Vdb. Creative Commons.