Mothers' experiences and infants' problems in sleeping, feeding and anger-regulation

Valeria Villaran, Fordham University


This study explored mothers' experiences and their connection with infants' problems in sleeping, feeding and anger-regulation in specific areas of the mother-infant relationship and across time. A new concept based on phenomenological and psychoanalytic intersubjective perspectives called Configurations of Maternal Relational Experiences was proposed and used. Archival data from six mothers and their firstborn infants over a period of 24 months was employed. Configurations of relational experiences were identified in 248 relationship episodes described by mothers using the Configurations of Maternal Relational Experiences (CMRE) method developed by the author. Infants' problems were identified as part of configurations and using mothers' weekly reports. Qualitative and quantitative analyses were performed. Results indicated that configurations described relational dynamics, including a mother's need or intention, a child's role (and/or other's role), a mother's emotional response, and a mother's strategies to manage her child's behavior. Six types of configurations corresponding to different aspects of mothering were identified: "Control/socialization," "balancing the child's demands and those outside the maternal role," "coordination of family alliances (including issues of triangulation)," "bonding experiences," "being socially validated as a good mother," and "child's growth and maternal protection". "Control/socialization" was the most frequent type of configuration among and within mothers in the three areas (sleeping, feeding and anger regulation); and the most frequently associated with infants' problems. In all types of configurations involving infants' problems, mothers were negatively affected by their children's problematic behavior in some aspects of their mothering. Negative roles and negative feelings characterized these configurations and were an expression of this difficulty. The exception was sleeping problems, which were in some cases gratifying for mothers. Similarly, the pervasiveness of a configuration was associated with anger and feeding problems, but played a preventive role in the development of problems in sleeping. A characteristic consistent across the three areas and more directly related with infants' problems was the mothers' strategies to manage their children's behavior: in sleeping problems, active soothing strategies (e.g., rocking the child, sleeping with her/him) and in feeding and anger problems, overcontrolling and/or non-responsive strategies. These findings highlight the utility of the new concept and its associated method for understanding infants' problems, as well as the relevance of the areas of the relationship.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Villaran, Valeria, "Mothers' experiences and infants' problems in sleeping, feeding and anger-regulation" (2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3377059.