Longitudinal study on the predictors of parental stress in mothers and fathers of toddlers

Terhi Saisto, Katariina Salmela-Aro, Jari-Erik Nurmi, Erja Halmesmaki
Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2008, 29 (3): 213-22

AIM: Longitudinal study on the predictors of parental stress in mothers and fathers of toddlers.

BACKGROUND: To study whether anxiety, depression, or marital problems increase the parenting stress in parents of toddlers.

METHODS: At early pregnancy, 2 - 3 months, and 2 - 3 years after delivery, 214 low-risk couples filled in questionnaires on their marital relationship, social support, child's temperament, and self-evaluated competence in routine care-taking. In hierarchical regression analyses, they were used as predictors of parental stress.

RESULTS: Those mothers who in early pregnancy had adequate social support, adaptive social strategies, and high self-esteem, and who had given birth vaginally, enjoyed breastfeeding, and whose spouse supported breastfeeding reported less stress 2 - 3 years later. Pregnancy-related anxiety, depression, general anxiety, neuroticism, and vulnerability in early pregnancy, as well as child's temperament and low self-estimated competence in routine care-taking measured at both 2 - 3 months and 2 - 3 years after childbirth predicted parental stress. Depression and living alone in early pregnancy, and the child-related variables (temperament and care-taking, measured both at 2 - 3 months and 2 - 3 years after childbirth) predicted high parenting stress in fathers of toddlers.

CONCLUSIONS: Parental stress in toddlers' parents was predicted both by the temperament of the child, and by the parents' depression, self-esteem, and anxiety, as well as by lack of support and low self-evaluated competence in routine care-taking.

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