Jane Peters



Aim The study aimed to explore maternal perceptions and the use of knowledge relating to their infant’s mental health over time using qualitative longitudinal research. Background There has been a growing interest in infant mental health over recent years. Much of this interest is directed through the lens of infant determinism, through knowledge regarding neurological development resulting in biological determinism. Research and policy in this field are directed toward individual parenting behaviours, usually focused on the mother. Despite this, there is little attention given to maternal perspectives of infant mental health, indicating that a more innovative approach to methodology is required. Methods This study took a qualitative longitudinal approach, and interviews were undertaken with seven mothers from the third trimester of pregnancy and then throughout the first year of the infant’s life. Interviews were conducted at 34 weeks of pregnancy, and then when the infant was 6 and 12 weeks, 6, 9, and 12 months, alongside the collection of researcher field notes—a total of 41 interviews. Data were analysed by creating case profiles, memos, and summaries, and then cross-comparison of the emerging narratives. A psycho-socially informed approach was taken to the analysis of data. Findings Three interrelated themes emerged from the data: evolving maternal identity, growing a person, and creating a safe space. The theme of evolving maternal identity dominated the other themes of growing a person and creating a safe space in a way that met perceived socio-cultural requirements for mothering and childcare practices. Participants’ personal stories give voice to their perceptions of the developing maternal-infant relationship in the context of their socio-cultural setting, relationships with others, and experiences over time. Conclusions This study adds new knowledge by giving mothers a voice to express how the maternal-infant relationship develops over time. The findings demonstrate how the developing maternal-infant relationship grows in response to their mutual needs as the mother works to create and sustain identities for herself and the infant that will fit within their socio-cultural context and individual situations. Additionally, the findings illustrate the importance of temporal considerations, social networks, and intergenerational relationships to this evolving process. Recommendations for practice, policy, and education are made that reflect the unique relationship between mother and infant and the need to conceptualise this using an ecological approach.

Document Type


Publication Date