First-time mothers' experiences of the transition to parenthood: The role of socioeconomic status on prenatal parenting expectations and postpartum experiences

Rumeli Banik, Fordham University


First-time mothers' experiences during the transition to parenthood may influence subsequent adjustment to parenthood and child developmental outcomes. The limited research in this area has focused primarily on changes in and satisfaction with the marital relationship. No prior study has compared the experiences of the transition for mothers from high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES). This study used a prospective, longitudinal, and exploratory research design to examine the prenatal expectations and postpartum experiences of parenthood in a socioeconomically- and contextually-diverse sample of first-time mothers (N=18) using qualitative interviews at three time points from pregnancy through the first three years postpartum. Mothers were categorized as either high- or low-SES (n=5 and 13, respectively) based on their household income. The results indicate that a strong association exists between SES and the qualitatively different types of stress first-time mothers experience in regard to caring for a young child and the balance of work and family during the transition to parenthood; high-SES mothers more frequently described stress related to career maintenance and advancement whereas low-SES mothers more often conveyed stress related to securing adequate financial resources to meet more fundamental needs, including food and housing. High-SES mothers had more protective factors, including stability and predictability in life circumstances and the availability of reliable social supports, across the transition which both impacted the type of stress they experienced and provided a buffer against this stress. In contrast, low-SES mothers had fewer protective factors and more risk factors in regard to their life circumstances and social support network that may have exacerbated the stress they experienced during their entry to parenthood. These findings imply that greater life stability and more reliable social support create a more stress-buffered, financially-secure environment and experience for first-time mothers during the transition to parenthood. Findings can be used to inform the design of prenatal classes and home visiting programs that better prepare first-time mothers for the major life changes associated with the entry to parenthood, help establish and support positive developmental trajectories for mothers and their children, and increase the likelihood they will have a successful transition and positive adjustment to parenthood.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Individual & family studies

Recommended Citation

Banik, Rumeli, "First-time mothers' experiences of the transition to parenthood: The role of socioeconomic status on prenatal parenting expectations and postpartum experiences" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3714974.