Aim: This paper reports a study examining the influence of maternal perceptions of conflict and relationship- and postpartum-specific support from the partner on the development of depressive symptoms in the first 8-weeks postpartum.
Background: Although the quality of a woman's relationship with her partner has been associated with risk for postpartum depression, few studies have examined which elements of partner-specific support and conflict are determinants of maternal mental health.
Methods: Self-administered measures of partner support (Social Provisions Checklist, Postpartum Partner Support Scale), partner conflict (Quality of Relationships Inventory), and depression (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) were mailed postnatally to a population-based sample of 396 mothers between April 2001 to January 2002. Differences in partner support and conflict at 1 and 4-weeks postpartum were examined between those women who met criteria for probable depression (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale > 9) and those who did not meet criteria for probable depression at 8-weeks postpartum.
Findings: Women with depressive symptoms at 8-weeks postpartum had significantly lower perceptions of relationship-specific and postpartum-specific partner support and significantly higher levels of relationship conflict than women with no depressive symptoms. Multiple regression analyses revealed that three variables, perceived social integration, partner encouragement to obtain help when needed, and partner agreed with infant care, significantly explained the variance in Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale scores.
Conclusions: Maternal perceptions of social integration and partner provision of problem-focused informational support and positive feedback are important in determining maternal mental health. Therefore, in the antenatal period healthcare professionals should teach couples appropriate ways to provide feedback and communicate expectations, especially those relating to infant care strategies. The importance of appraisal and emotional support should be highlighted in order to foster maternal feelings of acceptance and being cared for. Partners should also be encouraged to participate actively in household tasks and infant care activities to protect the mother from becoming overwhelmed.