While pregnant women who felt strong support from their families and from the child's father had fewer depressive symptoms, there was no relationship between support from the father and levels of pCRH. Although father support was not as strong of a protective factor as family support in this study, "there is no doubt that fathers are a critical part of a healthy pregnancy," Hahn-Holbrook said. It could be that support from the father influences pCRH levels earlier in pregnancy, or father support may act by a different biological or behavioral pathway altogether, Hahn Holbrook said.
"Mothers with support from fathers may be more likely to practice healthy behaviors, which has been shown to contribute both to healthier babies, better birth outcomes, and lower postpartum disturbance," Dunkel Schetter added.
The study's results suggest that the timing of support interventions is especially important.
"Because levels of pCRH in the last trimester contributed to postpartum depression, early social support interventions might protect against both elevated pCRH and depressive symptoms," Dunkel Schetter said. "Too many interventions in the past have been mounted too late in pregnancy," she added.
More research should be conducted to determine when, what, and how to provide the optimal support to mothers during pregnancy, according to Dunkel Schetter. Her laboratory is conducting further research in this area.
Sharp increases in pCRH over the course of pregnancy are associated with preterm births, defined as births earlier than 37 weeks of gestation. It is possible that social support or other stress reduction methods provided early in pregnancy could provide health benefits, and ultimately for the baby as well.
"Even better, would be to support and educate women before pregnancy to maximize healthy pregnancies" Dunkel Schetter noted.
Source: Association for Psychological Science