Moms Derive Biological Benefit from Dads' Social Support

Monday Jun 9, 2014

For many years, father involvement experts have argued that father's involvement is beneficial for children's development. And many of the studies used to buttress this argument focus on fathers' direct influence on the child. However, a new Canadian study, recently published in Psychosomatic Medicine suggests that a father's social support for the mother of his children is most likely one of the mechanisms by which father involvement benefits children.

The study, led by Psychologist Gerry Geisbrecht of the University of Calgary, looked at the impact of social support from spouses on pregnant women's physiological response to stress. The researchers found that women who reported higher levels of social support from their spouses had consistently lower levels of the so-called "stress hormone" cortisol, regardless of the mother's level of pyschological distress at the time the cortisol sample was taken.

In other words, while a fathers' social support doesn't necessarily take away all of a mother's stress and distress, it seems to mitigate her physiological response to stress. This may be important for some families because other research has shown that too much exposure to cortisol in utero can have a negative impact on fetal brain development.

On a broader level, these findings suggest that fathers' social support for their partners may have a positive impact on mothers not only during pregnancy, but during early parenthood as well. It is well known that social support is important for maternal well-being and also acts as a buffer against post-partum mood disorders. And in today's world, where families often live in relative isolation and the female support networks that once cared for new mothers are less available because more women work outside the home, fathers are now a much more important source of social support for mothers than in the past.

In this way, a father's support for his partner is very likely to have a positive impact on her capacity as a mothert, which, in turn, would be beneficial to children.

Read a news story about this study, written by the co-authors.

Read the study abstract.