Fathers' stress affects the mental health of unborn children.
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Fathers' stress affects the mental health of unborn children.

First-time-father jitters are totally normal, but if you're feeling seriously depressed, anxious, or unnerved while your partner is pregnant, you might want to get those emotions in check. Not only does your mental well-being affect you and your significant other's health and happiness, it can also impact your baby – even before he or she is born. Previous studies have shown that a pregnant woman's psyche can affect the baby both before and after birth, but now new research links expectant dads' psychological anguish to their kids' emotional and behavior health once they become toddlers.

This all might sound crazy, but according to a study of 32,000 kids and parents published in the journal Pediatrics, it's a real issue. Researchers assessed the mental health of fathers-to-be when their partners were 17 or 18 weeks along and found that 3 percent were suffering serious distress. Next, they evaluated each mom, dad, and child's well-being once the kid had turned 3, and found that the children whose dads were depressed before they were born were more likely to have emotional, behavioral, and social problems.

Lead researcher Anne Lise Kvalevaag offers a few possible explanations. First, there could be a genetic component, meaning a dad prone to emotional problems might pass on those traits to his offspring. Second, "a father's depression may impact his pregnant partner's mental condition, which could indirectly affect the neonatal development of the child," Kvalevaag says. "Also, the prenatal mental state of the father likely predicts his postnatal mental health, which may account for some of the associations we found."

Bottom line: Your mental health matters, and there's zero shame in seeking whatever help necessary to get on a better track. Junior just might thank you.