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Discussion paper

Great expectations: how gendered expectations shape early mothering experiences

Parenting and guardianship Mothers Maternal and infant welfare Gender differences
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apo-nid207231.pdf 1.81 MB

Motherhood is commonly viewed in contemporary society as a time of great joy, when ‘good mothers’ effortlessly bond with their newborns and adapt to their new role with ease. However, for many women and their partners, pregnancy, birth and early parenting do not meet these expectations.

The perinatal period marks an enormous transition and upheaval in women’s lives, challenging body image, relationships, intimacy and mental health. Research shows that when a woman’s prenatal expectations regarding her pregnancy, delivery, infant, support network, and sense of self as a mother are compromised, she is more likely to experience lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. The mismatch between expectations of pregnancy and early motherhood and the reality of many women’s experiences can act as a barrier to help seeking and compound feelings of stress, failure and isolation.

Mothers need more realistic, holistic and supportive responses from society, health professionals, their families and themselves. Developing and sharing more realistic expectations around early motherhood experiences, and striving to transform gender norms and structures so that women and their partners share the load more equally, can support improved outcomes for mothers and a more gender equal world for their children to grow up in.

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