University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) academics with the World Health Organisation identify four specific themes shaping new motherhood, recurring across 36 studies from 15 different countries
New global research, conducted to inform the scope of forthcoming World Health Organization (WHO) post-birth (postnatal) guidelines, has identified four key themes contributing to a positive experience for new mothers in order to provide areas of focus for caregivers and communities.
The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and WHO and published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, analysed the experiences of women in 15 different countries and cultures to highlight the key psychological, emotional and practical issues that women face during the postnatal period.
The research highlights the need for greater healthcare and community support throughout the postnatal period, as well as the importance of providing accessible information and guidance for both new mothers, their partners and families on how they can improve wellbeing and adapt to the ‘new normal’ of motherhood.
"Understanding what women want in the postnatal period will contribute significantly to ensuring that future WHO guidelines include both clinical and non-clinical recommendations to ensure a positive postnatal experience for both women and newborns."
They concluded that a positive postnatal period, resulting in joy, self-confidence and an enhanced capacity to persevere and succeed as a new mother, is one in which women:
- Adapt to any change in their identity and develop confidence as a mother, with emotional and psychological support from their caregivers, family and community, including peer groups
- Adjust to changes in their close relationships through reassurance, practical and emotional support
- Successfully navigate ordinary physical and emotional challenges, including exhaustion, intense feelings and physical changes
- Experience personal growth as they adjust to motherhood and parenting in their own cultural context.
These findings highlight how postnatal services can better meet the needs of new mothers and their babies and will be used to inform WHO recommendations that are due to be published in 2021. These guidelines will be used alongside WHO’s guidelines on antenatal and intrapartum care, completing a series of maternity care recommendations built around what matters to women.
To perform their systematic literature review, the authors searched several databases for studies reporting first-hand accounts of women who gave birth, published in any language after 2000. After rating each potential study and filtering out those studies with flaws or which didn’t fall into the scope of the review, the authors were left with 36 papers from 15 countries published between 2003-2019 to include in their data analysis.
Kenny Finlayson, Research Associate at UCLan and lead author of the research, said: “Our study shows that support during the postnatal phase is an important factor that shapes the entire maternal experience, for both new mothers and their babies. With the right support in place from communities, families and healthcare professionals during this crucial period, women around the world can feel more confident and adjust to the significant changes that come with motherhood.”
Dr Mercedes Bonet Semenas, Medical Officer at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research, co-author, said: ““Understanding what women want in the postnatal period will contribute significantly to ensuring that future WHO guidelines include both clinical and non-clinical recommendations to ensure a positive postnatal experience for both women and newborns.”