Parental mental health before and during pregnancy and offspring birth outcomes: A 20-year preconception cohort of maternal and paternal exposure


Background: Preterm birth (PTB) and small for gestational age (SGA) are increasingly prevalent, with major consequences for health and development into later life. There is emerging evidence that some risk processes begin before pregnancy. We report on associations between maternal and paternal common mental disorders (CMD) before and during pregnancy and offspring PTB and SGA. Methods: 398 women with 609 infants and 267 men with 421 infants were assessed repeatedly for CMD symptoms before pregnancy between age 14 and 29 and during pregnancy. Associations between preconception and antenatal CMD symptoms and offspring gestational age/PTB and size for gestational age/SGA were estimated using linear and Poisson regression. Findings: In men, persistent preconception CMD across adolescence and young adulthood predicted offspring PTB after adjustment for ethnicity, education, BMI and adolescent substance use (adjusted RR 7·0, 95% CI 1·8,26·8), corresponding to a population attributable fraction of 31% of preterm births. In women, antenatal CMD symptoms predicted offspring PTB (adjusted RR 4·4, 95% CI 1·4,14·1). There was little evidence of associations with SGA. Interpretation: This first report of an association between paternal preconception mental health and offspring gestational age, while requiring replication in larger samples, complements earlier work on stress in animals, and further strengthens the case for expanding preconception mental health care to both men and women.