Wednesday, 13 April 2016

SPHPM study finds factors affecting father-to-infant attachment

Researchers from the Jean Hailes Research Unit (JHRU) at SPHPM have had their study on father-to-infant attachment at six months postpartum published in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology.

Research Fellow Dr Karen Wynter with colleagues Dr Heather Rowe, Dr Thach Tran and Professor Jane Fisher, led the analysis of data from 270 Victorian fathers recruited from the community during routine home visits by Maternal and Child Health nurses following the birth of their baby.

The study fills an important gap in evidence on father-to-infant attachment; to date much of the evidence generated in parent-to-infant attachment focuses on mothers.

While previous research has found that poor father-to-infant attachment has long-term consequences for infant growth and development, the objective in this study was identify factors associated with father-to-infant attachment at six months postpartum.

The team conducted telephone interviews at four weeks, and then at six months postpartum using a number of different questionnaires measuring: parental attachment, quality of intimate partner relationship, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“The results of this study demonstrate that poorer father-to-infant attachment at six months postpartum is significantly associated with both individual and partner relationship factors,” said Dr Wynter.

“Specifically, fathers with personality traits such as lack of assertiveness and oversensitivity to the opinion of others, those with more depression and anxiety symptoms and those who reported that their partner criticised the way they cared for their infant reported poorer father-to-infant attachment.”

The key finding from the study was that if mothers criticised the way a father cares for a baby, it negatively affects the bond that he has with the baby.

The researchers said the study has important implications for primary health care providers and that postnatal care should include men to assess and address their specific needs early in the postpartum period.

The researchers said that critical behaviour by the partner was a potentially modifiable risk factor for poor father-to-infant attachment, and that programs focusing on building parents’ skills to provide sensitive, affirming care for each other and for the infant were vitally important.

“Because new parents have regular contact with Maternal and Child Health Nurses and - to a lesser extent - doctors, these health care providers have a unique opportunity to show parents what sensitive, responsive baby care looks like. They can also spread the word among parents that criticising each other is not only bad for their own relationship, but can affect the baby’s emotional development too,” said Dr Wynter.

The study was funded by a medical grant from The Jack Brockhoff Foundation.

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