Psychological factors that impact on women's experiences of first-time motherhood: a qualitative study of the transition

Midwifery. 2010 Jun;26(3):357-66. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2008.07.006. Epub 2008 Sep 9.


Objective: childbearing is a significant transition, especially for first-time mothers. The objectives of this study were to explore the maternal transition from womens' perspectives and to identify any unmet needs for support.

Design: grounded theory was chosen as the most appropriate method of analysis due to its ability to identify social processes in an inductive way. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from the participants, and the interview transcripts were analysed using the constant comparative method.

Setting: communities within one region of the UK.

Participants: 13 women (aged 16 years) who had delivered their first child six to 15 weeks prior to the interview were recruited to the study.

Findings: three main themes (control, support and forming a family) all contributed to the core category: 'changes in the woman's self-concept'. Women felt that they had lost some control over their lives in the early stages of pregnancy and after the birth. The early changes in their self-image and the shift in focus from themselves to the needs of the fetus indicate that the transition may begin at a very early stage in the first trimester. The unfamiliar territory of pregnancy and early motherhood created a need for a mentor or mentors to help guide them through the transition, and to 'normalise' their feelings and experiences. Finally, the women recognised that the act of childbearing fundamentally transformed them and their partners from individuals or a couple into founding members of a new family.

Key conclusions: first-time mothers start to undergo a transition at an early stage in their pregnancy. They face difficult periods both early in the pregnancy and after the birth, and have unmet needs for support in those periods, particularly the support of other new mothers.

Implications for practice: providing more information about early pregnancy before conception may enable women to form more accurate expectations of this period. Facilitating contact between pregnant mothers would help them to establish a more appropriate support network prior to the birth.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • England
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Life Change Events*
  • Mentors / psychology
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / education
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Object Attachment
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Parity
  • Pregnancy / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self Concept
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires