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Maternal orientation in pregnancy and early motherhood: infant caregiving practices and maternal adjustment
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 18:23 authored by Wendy Roncolato
Maternal orientation theory outlines two orientations to motherhood (Raphael-Leff, 1983). The Facilitator orientation is characterised by idealisation of the infant and the mothering role, and caregiving practices reflecting an infant-led approach. The Regulator orientation is described as a more resistant stance, where the mother seeks to defend herself from being overwhelmed by the infant and motherhood, with caregiving typified by a scheduled mother-led approach. The theory proposes that distinct intrapsychic processes predict caregiving practices, psychological adjustment during the transition to parenthood and individual differences in maternal vulnerability. However, there is little empirical evidence to support these propositions. Furthermore, three different maternal orientation measures have been used in the literature making it difficult to generalise across studies. This thesis addresses four research aims. Two studies aimed to explore the psychometric properties of the maternal orientation measures and assess relations with caregiving practices and maternal adjustment concurrently. Results from these exploratory studies informed two further prospective studies to test relationships between maternal orientation in pregnancy and caregiving, and maternal adjustment in the early months postpartum. The first study (N = 230 expectant mothers) explored the psychometric properties of the three empirical measures of maternal orientation in pregnancy. These three measures were modestly correlated, and a revised version of the Antenatal Maternal Orientation Measure (AMOM; Sharp & Bramwell, 2004), the Antenatal Maternal Orientation Measure-Revised (AMOM-R), emerged as the most reliable and valid measure. The second study (N = 274 mothers of infants aged 4-7 months) examined whether postnatal maternal orientation was associated concurrently with infant caregiving practices and maternal feelings of well-being. As expected, women with a more Facilitator orientation endorsed caregiving practices with an infant-led focus. However, postnatal maternal orientation was not associated with maternal subjective well-being. The third and fourth studies (N = 218) used a longitudinal design to investigate whether maternal orientation measured in pregnancy could predict postnatal maternal orientation, infant caregiving methods and maternal adjustment in the early months postpartum. Findings provide modest support for the stability of the construct, and confirmed that a more Facilitator orientation was related to a more infant-led style of caregiving postpartum, lower symptoms of depression in both pregnancy and postpartum, and more positive maternal feelings of attachment to the infant postpartum. Clinical implications for antenatal education and for child and family health professionals are discussed.