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Refining the Role of Social Support in First-time Mothers’ Development of Parental Self-efficacy


Research has established that a mother’s beliefs about her ability to plan and carry out the activities of parenting, or parental self-efficacy (Porter & Hsu, 2003), has important implications both for herself and for her child (for a review see Jones & Prinz, 2005). Less clear, however, is how parental self-efficacy is constructed during the prenatal period, and how mothers themselves experience and understand these developments. The present longitudinal survey and interview study was conducted with a sample of 82 U.S. first-time expectant mothers who were predominantly European American, well-educated, and partnered to men. It examined a) the development of parental self-efficacy from the 2nd trimester to early postpartum, b) whether the quality of prenatal care provider interactions predicted parental self-efficacy, when controlling for known predictors such as social support and depression, and c) postpartum interviews with two mothers to understand their lived experiences of social support and developing efficacy beliefs. Quantitative findings indicated a non-significant increase in parental self-efficacy across time. Second trimester parental self-efficacy was associated with social support and later parental self-efficacy, but not with depression. Further, provider empowerment, an aspect of the quality of prenatal provider interactions, significantly predicted 3rd trimester parental self-efficacy, but not postpartum parental self-efficacy. Findings from the qualitative analysis highlighted the importance of friends and family for social support during pregnancy and early parenthood, and how such interactions served to support the development of parental self-efficacy. Further, the mothers identified a variety of other contributors to their feelings of efficacy in reading and responding to their babies’ cues. Implications for future research, policy, and practice are discussed.

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