Couples becoming parents: trajectories for psychological distress and buffering effects of social support

Claire Hughes, R.T. Devine, Sarah Foley, Andrew Ribner, Judi Mesman, Clancy Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
338 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Becoming a parent is a time of both joy and stress. Associations between exposure to postnatal depression and negative child outcomes underscore the importance of understanding trajectories and correlates of perinatal depression and anxiety.

Methods: In a study of 438 expectant couples (from the UK, USA and Netherlands) tracked across four time-points (third trimester, 4, 14 and 24 months), we used dyadic latent growth curve modeling (LGCM) of self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression (CES-D, GHQ, STAI) to investigate the affective impact of becoming a parent.

Results: Confirmatory factor analyses of anxious-depressive symptoms revealed a single latent factor with measurement invariance across time and parent. Dyadic LGCM intercepts showed greater prenatal problems in mothers compared with fathers. LGCM slopes revealed stable maternal problems but worsening paternal problems. Both intercepts and slopes showed significant within-couple associations. Controlling for prenatal salivary cortisol levels and perinatal couple relationship quality, support from friends attenuated mothers’ psychological distress and support from family reduced fathers’ psychological distress across the transition to parenthood.

Limitations: Our sample was low risk (i.e., predominantly well-educated and affluent and no history of serious mental illness), limiting the generalizability of findings. In addition, the inverse association between psychological distress and social support may, in part, reflect the use of self-report for both measures.

Conclusions: The international dyadic longitudinal design strengthens conclusions regarding variation in trajectories of psychological distress in both mothers and fathers. Crucially, social support appears pivotal in enabling new parents to flourish.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-380
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date22 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2020


  • parenthood
  • distress
  • social support
  • fathers
  • Latent growth curve model
  • Psychological distress
  • Transition to parenthood
  • Fathers
  • Social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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