Euro-American mothers' ethnotheories and practices of self-care: Associations with mood during the perinatal period

Date of Completion

January 2009


Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




This study explored self-care needs, practices and relevant contextual factors (e.g., work, infant needs, support and ideas about the mother role), and associations between self-care and mood, among middle-class Euro-American mothers (n = 20). Data were drawn from a larger study of parenting and infant development (C. Super and S. Harkness, Principal Investigators). Data from the third trimester of pregnancy, five days, two weeks, two months and six months postpartum were used. Self-care is understudied in terms of its meanings and the factors that influence it, particularly among non-clinical samples. Self-care may benefit mothers regardless of clinical status. This knowledge contributes to a theoretical understanding of maternal experience and well-being during a period that poses many personal, social and familial challenges for women. The findings also offer information useful to practitioners and programs that serve expectant or early postpartum mothers. ^ The measures consisted of a semi-structured interview and a checklist of 30 mood descriptors, positive and negative, that was administered in mothers' homes at each time point. Interviews focused on daily routines, social support and contacts, general experiences of motherhood, and important things to do for the infant and oneself. The mood checklist included a range of feelings; mothers indicated at the end of each of three daily time allocation diaries the extent to which they had experienced each of the 30 mood states. ^ Results indicated that physical self-care (e.g., sleep) and social engagement were the most common need across time. A diverse range of practices were discussed, but social activities and going "out" were the most widely cited practices. Mothers managed to enact these despite the presence of constraints related to physical and social settings, and employed strategies such as taking the infant along to facilitate social involvement. Physical self-care and quiet or alone time were two needs that in some cases appeared to be unmet. Self-expectations related to the mother role appear likely to have influenced self-care in a negative manner. Physical self-care practices at five days postnatal bore the most prominent associations to positive mood at the group level and when individual mothers were grouped. ^