First-time parents need more support to enable children’s healthy development

Professor Claire Hughes with parents of new babies for research project

Campaigners and researchers have called for increased mental health support for expectant and new mothers over recent years: new research by Newnham’s Prof Claire Hughes has shown the need to extend this support to expectant fathers too.

“For too long, the experiences of first-time dads has either been side-lined or treated in isolation from that of mums. This needs to change because difficulties in children’s early relationships with both mothers and fathers can have long-term effects,” explains Prof Hughes, Deputy Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research.

In a newly published study, an international research group explored the influence of both mothers’ and fathers’ wellbeing before and after birth on children’s adjustment at 14 and 24 months of age.

Their research showed that parents’ wellbeing affected children’s early behaviour and development in distinct ways.

The researchers also found that two-year-olds were more likely to exhibit emotional problems – including being worried, unhappy and tearful; scaring easily; or being clingy in new situations – if their parents had been having early postnatal relationship problems. These ranged from a general lack of happiness in the relationship to rows and other kinds of conflict.

The team say that their findings highlight a pressing need for greater support for couples before, during and after pregnancy to improve outcomes for children.

“Our findings highlight the need for earlier and more effective support for couples to prepare them better for the transition to parenthood, We have already shared our findings with the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) and we encourage the NHS and other organisations to reconsider the support they offer,” explains Claire Hughes.

For more information about the design and findings of the study, see the research article on the University of Cambridge website