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Positive mental wellbeing in the transition to motherhood: : the impact of poverty and social support

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Whilst there is a substantial literature on the potential for poor mental health outcomes in the postnatal period, much less is known about the positive wellbeing of pregnant women and new mothers. The potential relationship between poverty and levels of subjective wellbeing in the transition to motherhood is also an under researched area.

The aim of this study was to measure wellbeing, quality of life, poverty and social support, and investigate potential relationships between these; and to explore possible barriers and facilitators of good mental health in the transition to motherhood.

Questionnaires using validated measures of subjective wellbeing, quality of life, social support levels and deprivation were administered to participants in the last trimester of pregnancy and again at 3-4 months post-delivery. In-depth interviews were undertaken with a separate group of mothers with children under the age of 2 to explore their mental health experiences in the transition to motherhood.

Social support levels were significantly lower in the ‘living in poverty’ group at both time points, and there was a significant reduction in social support in both groups from pregnancy to early motherhood. Subjective wellbeing scores were also significantly lower in the ‘living in poverty’ group at both time points. Regression analysis found a significant relationship between poverty and wellbeing, which was mediated by social support score, suggesting that high levels of social support can mitigate the effects of poverty on wellbeing.

Thematic analysis of the interview transcripts identified an overarching theme of ‘Resistance and Resilience’. Positive support, getting outside and staying active were clear facilitators of good mental health in new mothers. Lack of financial resources, and negative judgements, were barriers to wellbeing.

Social support from a close relationship can mitigate the effects of poverty on mental wellbeing and could bolster confidence in a new mother’s identity. More intensive support from health care professionals or services for women who do not have partners may also be beneficial. This may need to go beyond practical support to advocating for women’s decisions to be effective in bolstering mental wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
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Supervisors/Advisors
Award dateDec 2018

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