By Maina Simon

A new analysis has shown that a father’s mental health is as important as a mother’s with both psychiatric diagnoses being linked to high preterm birth in infants.

This is according to a study published on July 20th in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine.

The research shows that for the first time, the risk of preterm birth is higher in infants whose fathers or mothers have psychiatric diagnoses, compared with those who do not, and where both parents have diagnoses, the risk is even higher.

Premature babies are more likely to have long-term health issues than are full-term infants. Illnesses, asthma and feeding problems are more likely to develop or linger. Premature infants also are at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Weiyao Yin and colleagues from the Karolinska Institute analyzed data on all live births to Nordic parents in Sweden between 1997 and 2016 and obtained psychiatric diagnoses from the National Patient Register and data on gestational age from the Medical Birth Register.

Out of 1.5 million births in the cohort, 15 percent were born to parents with a diagnosis but for parents without diagnosis, only 5.8 percent of babies were born preterm.

A paternal diagnosis increased the risk to 6.3% of births while a maternal diagnosis increased the risk to 7.3% of births.

However, where both parents had a diagnosis, the risk of preterm birth was greatest, affecting 8.3% of births. The researchers also found that the risk was further increased for parents that is mothers as well as fathers, with several co-existing psychiatric disorders.

“Future studies should examine whether additional social support and prenatal care for families with a positive psychiatric history could have an impact on gestational age,” Yin says.

“Children of  parents with mental illness are at increased risk of being born too early – both the mothers’ and fathers’ are important.”