Maternal and Paternal Adjustment to Parenthood


Name: Mary Nichols


Organization: Georgetown University

Performance Site: Arlington Hospital, Arlington, VA; DeWitt Army Hospital, Fort Belvoir, VA

Year Published: 1994

Abstract Status: Final


This longitudinal, multi-site study compared military and non-military parents in their experiences adjusting to the birth of an infant. The study sample consisted of 146 couples (84 military and 62 civilian) who completed self-report questionnaires designed to measure adjustment to parenthood during the last trimester of pregnancy, and also at 6 weeks after the birth of a healthy newborn. The specific aims of the study were: (1) to collect quantitative data on measurable indicators of adjustment to parenthood in military and civilian mothers & fathers, and to identify any significant differences in the two groups and (2) to collect qualitative data from responses to open-ended questions on the influences or experiences that may impact adjustment to parenthood in order to identify any differences that may be attributed to the special nature of the military.The principal research question was the following: Are there significant differences found among measures of adjustment to parenthood in military compared to civilian populations? Indicators of adjustment to parenthood included prenatal influences, intrapartal events, and new parent experiences.Prenatal influences were measured by demographic and contextual variables, prenatal attachment, and maternal self-esteem. Intrapartal events included measures of prenatal childbirth involvement and childbirth satisfaction. Parenting sense of competence, ease of transition to parenthood, and maternal and paternal self-esteem were indicators of new parent experiences.Descriptive statistics, Pearson Product Moment correlations, and Multiple Regression were utilized in the data analysis. In addition, qualitative data were obtained from the answers to four open-ended questions posed to fathers and relating to their perspective of the childbirth experience. Data were reported in four tables comparing military and civilian couples on the following: demographic variables, postnatal variables, mean scores for maternal prenatal and postnatal variables, and mean scores for paternal prenatal and postnatal variables.Results indicated that although military active duty may present some unique challenges to military families, there were no significant differences between military and non-military subjects in overall adjustment to parenthood during pregnancy, childbirth, and the early weeks after birth. The data also provided some new insight into parental adjustment to parenthood. For example, it was found that for mothers, 16% of the variance in maternal-fetal attachment was explained by age, self-esteem, income, martial satisfaction, and being a first-time mother. Postpartally, 10% of the variance in maternal perception of paternal childbirth involvement was predicted by parity and martial satisfaction. Thirty-seven percent of the variance in parenting sense of competence was explained by prenatal self-esteem, fetal attachment, labor satisfaction, and postnatal self-esteem. For fathers, 8% of the variance in childbirth involvement was explained by paternal-fetal attachment. The variance in parenting sense of competence (28%) was explained by being a father more than once, having a lower educational level, childbirth satisfaction, and self-esteem. Variance in ease of role transition (29%) was explained by lower education level, being a father more than once, martial satisfaction, and self-esteem.Previously, research studies based on non-military subjects provided the basis for nursing assessment and interventions for prenatal, intrapartal, and post-birth of military clients. The present study validates generalizability of studies with non-military subjects and demonstrates that future parenting research conducted on military families may be generalized to their civilian counterparts and, conversely, parenting research focused on civilian research subjects may be generalized to military families.Final Report available on NTRL: