Poor co-parenting linked to depression in fathers

Overview: Men who have poor co-parenting relationships with their partners in the months following their child’s birth are more likely to be depressed by the time their children are toddlers.

Source: Karolinska Institute

Fathers are more likely to feel depressed when their children are toddlers if their co-parenting relationships are poor in the months following birth, according to a new study by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet. The findings are published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“We have a lot to gain as a society from being more supportive of co-parenting relationships during the early stages of parenthood,” said Michael Wells, associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Karolinska Institutet.

“One way to do that is to screen fathers for their co-parenting status during infancy and toddlerhood and, if necessary, offer interventions aimed at improving cooperation and communication around the child.”

About 9-10 percent of fathers experience postpartum depression, which is high compared to the general population. Children who grow up with depressed fathers are also at greater risk for mental, emotional and behavioral problems in childhood, according to previous research. By identifying modifiable factors that reduce the risk of depression in fathers, researchers hope to develop interventions that can prevent mental illness in both parents and children.

In the current study, 429 fathers of babies up to two years old in Sweden were recruited on Facebook. The participants were asked to complete questionnaires in which they ranked the symptoms of depression and the nature of their co-parenting relationships. Data were collected at three time points when the children were on average 8, 13 and 26 months old. About 20 percent of the fathers reported symptoms of depression at some point during the study.

According to the findings, two-thirds of fathers with exceptionally poor co-parenting relationships during the first year after birth are likely to have symptoms of depression when their children become toddlers. Conversely, fathers with higher co-parenting scores are more likely to have fewer symptoms of depression. The researchers also found associations between depression in earlier stages and poorer co-parenting relationships later on.

About 9-10 percent of fathers experience postpartum depression, which is high compared to the general population. The image is in the public domain

“We found bidirectional associations between depression and poor co-parenting, meaning that these two factors seem to influence each other in both directions. However, the strongest predictor for the development of depression was a poor co-parenting relationship in early childhood, compared to the other way around,” says Michael Wells.

In Sweden, fathers are currently screened for symptoms of depression three to five months after birth, while mothers are screened when the baby is six to eight weeks old. According to the researchers, an effective prevention strategy for depression could be in addition to additional screening and support regarding the co-parenting relationship.

The study has some limitations. For example, the participants had higher incomes and more symptoms of at least mild depression than the average Swedish population.

The researchers note that the study only looked at the experience of those who self-identified as fathers and so it’s unclear whether the results would be generalized to other parents.

The study was funded by a grant from Region Stockholm.

What is a co-parenting relationship?

  • A co-parenting relationship differs from an intimate relationship in that it focuses more on the cooperation between the parents around the child.
  • It typically encompasses four areas: 1) agreement or disagreement on how the child should be raised, 2) support or undermining of the other’s parental capacities, 3) cooperation around shared family norms, and 4) division of parenting.

About this news about depression and parenting research

Writer: Press Office
Source: Karolinska Institute
Contact: Press Service – Karolinska Institute
Image: The image is in the public domain

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Original research: Closed access.
“Bidirectional associations between paternal postpartum depression symptoms and coparenting: a cross-lagged panel model of fathers of infants and toddlers” by Michael Wells et al. Journal of Affective Disorders


Bidirectional Associations Between Paternal Postpartum Depression Symptoms and Co-Parenting: A Cross-lagged Panel Model of Fathers of Infants and Toddlers


Finding modifiable predictors of paternal depression symptoms is useful for developing interventions. The aim is to assess the unidirectional and/or bidirectional associations between paternal postpartum depression symptoms and co-parenting in fathers of infants and toddlers.


Longitudinal data were collected prospectively from 429 fathers of infants aged 0-24 months (median = 8 months) in Sweden, with follow-ups of 6 and 18 months. All fathers participated in at least two of the three data collection waves and multiple imputation was used for missing values. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale was used to detect depression symptoms (≥10 points), while the Brief Coparenting Relationship Scale measured coparenting relationship. A cross-lagged panel model was used to estimate the associations between paternal depression symptoms and co-parenting relationship quality over time, controlling for several known covariates and exposure to COVID-19.


Fathers with higher co-parenting scores at Time 1 and 2 had fewer depression symptoms at Time 3, and fathers with more depression symptoms at Time 2 had lower co-parenting scores at Time 3. The plotted probability of having at least mild depression symptoms revealed a multiple-fold increase in the probability of depression symptoms at time 3 for fathers with minimal co-parenting scores at time points 1 and 2, respectively, compared to fathers with mean co-parenting scores at time points 1 and 2, respectively.


Causal relationships cannot be established using the current non-experimental study design. By using only the EPDS, some fathers with depression symptoms may have been overlooked.


Doctors trying to reduce the father’s depression symptoms should help strengthen the co-parenting relationship.

Poor co-parenting linked to depression in fathers

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