Academic journal article Fathering

Urban Fathers' Role in Maternal Postpartum Mental Health

Academic journal article Fathering

Urban Fathers' Role in Maternal Postpartum Mental Health

Article excerpt

Postpartum depression (PPD) leads to poor outcomes for mothers and families, yet for many reasons across various ecological strata, it remains difficult to identify. The potential role of fathers in maternal mental health has largely been unexplored. We use an ecological model to examine urban fathers' role in identifying maternal depressive symptoms and providing partner support.

In 31 qualitative interviews with urban fathers, seven fathers identified depressive symptoms such as depressed mood and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and fifteen reported providing emotional, instrumental, and stability support. Implications of our findings and the potential roles that fathers can assume in the ecological strata are discussed.

Keywords: Postpartum depression, maternal mental health, fathers, partner support


International and national efforts have highlighted the positive roles that fathers can play in their family (National Fatherhood Initiative, 2008; State of Illinois Office of the Governor, 2005; United Nations Population Fund, 2007). Yet, in addition to the known positive associations between father involvement and child developmental outcomes, fathers have been found to play an important role in supporting mothers and attending to their mental health needs (Dennis, Janssen, & Singer, 2004; Lemola, Stadlmayr, & Grob, 2007; Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid, & Bremberg, 2007). Understanding and clarifying normative roles that unmarried, low-income, and ethnic minority fathers fulfill in their families represents a pressing need in fathering literature as previous academic work has historically involved married, Caucasian, and middle-to-upper class fathers (Coley, 2001). Earlier research may not generalize to diverse populations of fathers. For example, a recent study identifying fathers as valuable resources when assessing maternal depressive symptoms cautioned that generalization to non-married or racially/ethnically diverse couples was limited because their sample consisted of married, highly-educated White couples of mid-to-high socioeconomic status (Moran & O' Hara, 2006). This paper focuses on the supportive roles that urban, low-income, racially and ethnically diverse fathers may assume in the postpartum period, when mothers are vulnerable to additive stress and depressive symptoms.

The ecological model serves as the theoretical framework for this paper as postpartum depression is considered a systemic issue (Perfetti, Clark, & Fillmore, 2004). This model, which recognizes that families are complex systems that are affected by larger contextual factors, has been useful when examining a more robust conceptualization of paternal roles in families (Adamsons, O'Brien, & Pasley, 2007). We review the macro-, exo-, and individual level barriers to the identification of postpartum depression (PPD) and describe the roles fathers may assume in the mothers' microsystem as potential identifiers of depressive symptoms and sources of support.

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework

Postpartum depression affects 10-15% of new mothers and is consistently associated with negative child outcomes and conflict in adult partner relationships (Coyne, Thompson, & Palmer, 2002; Dawson, et al., 2003; McLearn, Minkovitz, Strobino, Marks, & Hou, 2006; Meighan, Davis, Thomas, & Droppleman, 1999; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1999; Sacco & Phares, 2001 ; Whisman, 2001). Despite this high frequency and the known adverse outcomes associated with PPD, systemic and individual barriers continue to inhibit the identification of depressed mothers, thereby interfering with a mother's ability to receive support and appropriate treatment options (Sobey, 2002; Sword, 2005). In the maternal macrosystem, cultural and societal values comprise the outermost layer of the environment, with social stigma constituting a contributing factor to problems with identification. …

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