BABY

Down ... maternal and paternal postnatal depression often occurs at the same time. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

Postnatal depression in men could cause ongoing emotional and behavioural problems in their children, according to an Australian study that experts say shows fathers need to be checked for the condition.

The study, of more than 2600 families, found children whose fathers experienced depression when they were born were three times as likely as children without depressed fathers to have behavioural problems when they were aged between four and five.

What it is really outlining is that paternal depression in the early years of children's lives is as important as maternal depression. 

The study leader, Richard Fletcher, said the research found maternal and paternal postnatal depression often occurred at the same time, creating a "worst case scenario" for their children.

The study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, found 1.3 per cent of fathers experienced symptoms of depression when their children were born, compared with 2.6 per cent of mothers.

International research had shown depressed fathers were less likely to read to or play with their children, and used more physical discipline on children as young as one.

“We don't want to blame these dads ... but we do need to see plans put in place so we can pick them up,” said Dr Fletcher, who is the leader of the fathers and families research program at the University of Newcastle.

Nick Kowalenko, the chairman of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry and the head of the perinatal and infant mental health program at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry, said the study was a major contribution to knowledge of postnatal depression in Australia.

“What it is really outlining is that paternal depression in the early years of children's lives is as important as maternal depression,” he said.