The first year of a baby’s life is a shit-storm in the most literal sense. Sleep deprivation is unavoidable, you’re more time-poor than ever before, while your relationship with your partner suddenly changes shape. As you’re blearily trying to process all this, you’re rocked by yet another revelation. That tiny defenceless person in the cot? They’re totally dependent on you for the next two decades at least.
Yet rather than recoil from the situation you need to lean into it. A new study reveals that deep involvement in your baby’s life has an unexpected pay-off – it’ll make you less likely to experience depression.
Researchers from California State University conducted interviews with 881 new dads one month after the birth of their child and then monitored the men’s depressive symptoms at regular intervals over the next 12 months.
“We found that fathers who were more involved with their infants shortly after their birth were less likely to be depressed a year later,” says Dr Olajide Bamishigbin, Assistant Professor of Psychology.
“In our paper, we suggest a few reasons that greater father involvement in parenting would lead to less depression in fathers. For example, fathers who are more involved during infancy may feel more competent as parents and be more satisfied in their role as parents over time, and this could contribute to lower depressive symptoms.”
The findings of this study have significant implications for the effects of early paternal involvement. Previous research has shown that fathers who interact more with their children in their first few months of life could have a positive impact on their baby’s cognitive development. But this new study shows that there are also benefits for the dads themselves.
“In our study, greater early involvement was related to less depression later on,” Bamishigbin said. “This is very important because, it suggests that, if fathers are involved with their infants early and often, their mental health, and the health of the entire family unit, may fare better.”
“This is why we suggest that paid paternal leave policies which can allow fathers the opportunity to be more involved with their kids and gain confidence as a parent early on in their lives, without having to worry about their economic security, and may help allow fathers more opportunities to be involved with their kids and be part of shaping healthier and thriving future generations. In turn, this may improve the well-being of the entire family.”