Investigating attachment, caregiving, and mental health: a model of maternal-fetal relationships

Judi Walsh, E.G Hepper, Benjamin Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

Background
Maternal-fetal relationships have been associated with psychosocial outcomes for women and children, but there has been a lack of conceptual clarity about the nature of the maternal relationship with the unborn child, and inconsistent findings assessing its predictors. We proposed and tested a model whereby maternal-fetal relationship quality was predicted by factors relating to the quality of the couple relationship and psychological health. We hypothesized that the contribution of individual differences in romantic attachment shown in past research would be mediated by romantic caregiving responsiveness, as maternal-fetal relationships reflect the beginnings of the caregiving system.

Methods
258 women in pregnancy (13, 23, and 33-weeks gestation) completed online measures of attachment to partner, caregiving responsiveness to partner, mental health, and thoughts about their unborn baby. Structural equation modeling was used to test a model of maternal-fetal relationships.

Results
Maternal-fetal relationship quality was higher for women at 23-weeks than 13-weeks gestation. Women in first pregnancies had higher self-reported scores of psychological functioning and quality of maternal-fetal relationships than women in subsequent pregnancies. Structural equation models indicated that the quality of the maternal-fetal relationship was best predicted by romantic caregiving responsiveness to partner and women's own psychological health, and that the association between adult romantic attachment avoidance and maternal-fetal relationships was fully mediated by caregiving responsiveness to partner, even after controlling for other factors. These data support the hypothesis that maternal-fetal relationships better reflect the operation of the caregiving system than the care-seeking (i.e., attachment) system.

Conclusions
Models of maternal-fetal relationships and interventions with couples should consider the role of caregiving styles of mothers to partners and the relationship between expectant parents alongside other known predictors, particularly psychological health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number383
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Volume14
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2014

Keywords

  • Antenatal attachment
  • Caregiving
  • Pregnancy

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