Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Child Development

Abstract

Infant excessive crying and fussing has been linked to adverse maternal outcomes such as increased depression and stress, and decreased feelings of parenting self-efficacy. Infant crying has also been identified as the number one trigger caregivers report prior to an abusive action, placing infants who cry excessively at risk. Fathers and male caregivers have been identified as the primary offenders in the majority of infant abuse cases, suggesting a particular risk between fathers and infants who cry excessively. However, the relationship between excessive crying and fathers has not been explored to the same extent as mothers. In an effort to address the identified risks of infant crying and fathers, the aim of this study was to investigate how fathers' well-being is impacted by infant crying and fussing. Fathers' experience of crying and how they cope when caring for an inconsolable infant was also explored.

One hundred and ninety-two fathers of infants under one year of age completed online measures of depression (EPDS), parenting stress (PSI/SF), parenting self-efficacy (MSE), and coping (RWCC). Fathers reported amount of infant crying (categorized adhering to Wessel's Rule of Three for colic criteria) as well as concern about their infant's crying and fussing. Ten fathers participated in a semi-structured phone interview about the experience of and coping with infant crying and parenting in general.

Sixteen percent of fathers met criteria for depression based on a cut-off score of 10 or greater on the EPDS. Based on Wessel's criteria, 20% of infants were categorized as having "colic." Thirty percent of fathers indicated that they were finding their infant's crying and fussing to be a problem or upsetting. Of these fathers, approximately 50% did not meet criteria for colic, suggesting over half of these fathers have a problem with the crying, but did not report 'excessive' amounts of crying.

Results indicated significant relationships between infant crying and father depression, parenting stress and parenting self-efficacy. Perception of a crying was a significant predictor of parenting stress, depression and parenting self-efficacy, and colic was only a significant predictor for parenting stress. Taken together, these results suggest that fathers' perception of infant crying has a greater impact and is a stronger predictor of father well-being than the amount of crying reported (i.e., colic criteria). In addition, fathers who met criteria for depression, reported a crying problem, and their infant met colic criteria had the highest parenting stress and depressions scores and the lowest parenting self-efficacy scores compared to all fathers in the study.

Fathers most often described problematic crying in terms related to how the crying behavior personally impacts them, or using descriptions including feelings of helplessness. Coping explored in semi-structured interviews revealed a theme of 'cognitive reappraisal'. Fathers confronted with inconsolable crying described feelings of 'losing control' and a process of cognitively reappraising the situation and the infant's behavior as a method of coping. Interview results also revealed a heavy reliance on fathers' co-parent as a source of support. Interview fathers had little to offer in regards to suggested support services for fathers.

The findings of this study offer evidence towards the importance of incorporating parent perception into research on infant crying. Study results also indicate that fathers report on their infants' crying similar to mothers, suggesting that fathers can and should be included in research on infant crying as primary reports. Findings also suggest that providers working with families and infants pay particular attention to the well-being of fathers and incorporate more systematic screening and involvement related to father perception of their infant behavior, especially if a crying problem is reported. Finally, the results of this study offers theoretical explanations of the risk associated with infant crying and fathers.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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