A qualitative study of first time mothers' experiences of postnatal social support from health professionals in England

Women Birth. 2021 Sep;34(5):e451-e460. doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2020.10.012. Epub 2020 Nov 3.


Problem: Many women experience the transition to motherhood as stressful and find it challenging to cope, contributing to poor emotional wellbeing.

Background: Postnatal social support from health professionals can support new mothers in coping with this transition, but their social support role during the postnatal period is poorly defined.

Aim: To explore how first time mothers in England experienced social support from health professionals involved in their postnatal care.

Methods: A qualitative descriptive study, theoretically informed by phenomenological social psychology, based on semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 32 mothers from diverse backgrounds. These were analysed using inductive thematic analysis, with themes subsequently mapped on to the four dimensional model of social support (emotional, appraisal, informational, practical).

Findings: There were nine themes connected to social support, with the strongest mapping to appraisal and informational support: for appraisal support, 'Praise and validation', 'Criticism and undermining', and 'Made to feel powerless'; for informational support, 'Is this normal?', 'Need for proactive information', and 'Confusion about postnatal care'; for emotional support, 'Treated as an individual and heard' and 'Impersonal care and being ignored'; for practical support, 'Enabling partners to provide practical support'.

Conclusions: Health professionals can play an important role postnatally in helping first time mothers to cope, develop confidence and to thrive, by taking every opportunity to give appropriate and personalised appraisal, informational and emotional social support alongside clinical care. Training and professional leadership may help to ensure that all health professionals are able and expected to offer the positive social support already offered by some.

Keywords: Midwifery; Nurse-patient relations; Postnatal care; Postpartum period; Psychological stress; Social support.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers*
  • Postnatal Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Support*