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Keywords:

  • fatherhood;
  • mental health;
  • postnatal;
  • prospective study;
  • sexual function.

Objective:  In comparison to its female counterpart, the transition of men to parenthood has been relatively neglected in previous research. The present paper argues that men may have gender-specific risk factors for perinatal psychological distress and may manifest distress in ways different from women. The prime objective of this research was to document changes in psychological, relationship and lifestyle parameters in a cohort of first time fathers from pregnancy to the end of the first postnatal year. The present paper reports on these changes.

Method:  Three hundred and twelve men were assessed at 23 weeks of pregnancy and followed up at 3, 6 and 12 months postnatally, using a battery of self-report questionnaires covering psychological symptom levels, lifestyle variables and relationship/sexual functioning. Two hundred and four men completed all four assessments.

Results:  The men exhibited highest symptom levels in pregnancy with general, through small, improvement at 3 months and little change thereafter. Lifestyle variables showed small changes over the first postnatal year. Sexual functioning appeared to deteriorate markedly from pre-pregnancy levels with only minimal recovery by the end of the first year. The results highlight that the majority of men anticipated return of sexual activity to pre-pregnancy levels; however, this failed to eventuate.

Conclusions:  Pregnancy, rather than the postnatal period, would appear to be the most stressful period for men undergoing the transition to parenthood. The results suggest that the most important changes occur relatively early in pregnancy. Thereafter, lack of change (rather than change) is the most noteworthy feature. These men appeared to be ill-prepared for the impact of parenthood on their lives, especially in terms of the sexual relationship. Further research to determine the timing and trigger of stress in pregnancy is recommended.