Objective To compare maternal and paternal psychological responses following birth of a healthy baby; and to explore predictors of parental psychological distress.
Design A prospective, longitudinal, population-based cohort study.
Setting A Norwegian district general hospital.
Population One hundred and twenty-seven mothers and 122 fathers were included.
Methods Eligible consenting parents were enrolled. The assessments, which were performed zero to four days after birth, at six weeks and at six months, included General Health Questionnaire-28 (GHQ-28), State Anxiety Inventory and Impact of Event Scale. The response rates at the three occasions were 97%, 85% and 71%.
Main outcome measures Symptoms of intrusion, avoidance, arousal and psychological distress including anxiety, depression, social dysfunction and somatisation.
Results Clinically important psychological distress was reported by 37% of the mothers and 13% of the fathers a few days after childbirth (P < 0.001). Severe intrusive stress symptoms were reported by 9% and 2% of mothers and fathers, respectively (P= 0.002). Level of intrusive stress was the outcome that differed most clearly between mothers and fathers at all three points of time. Being a single parent, multiparity and a previous traumatic birth were significant independent predictors of acute maternal psychological distress. After six weeks and six months, the level of psychological distress including symptoms of depression fell to levels found in the general population.
Conclusions Childbirth does not seem to trigger long term psychological distress in most parents. Clinically important psychological distress occurred more frequently in mothers than in fathers. Acute maternal psychological distress was predicted by being a single parent, being multiparous, and having a previous traumatic birth.