Background: The birth of a child, especially the first child, is a key moment in the transition to a new stage of the life cycle, involving the restructuring of the family system and, consequently, the redefinition of roles and tasks. Therefore, parenting tasks change the couple’s daily life, especially that of the mother who is largely responsible for infant care. At this moment, the mother enters into a sometimes unknown universe, which is highly demanding and imposes an adaptation to the new situation as a mother and infant caregiver. If they are unable to care for their newborn or even breastfeed, they feel powerless, sad, and tearful. This emotional vulnerability is one of the consequences of the postpartum period, particularly in the first weeks Thus, mothers and fathers need to develop a set of behaviors to meet these new demands related to infant care (breastfeeding, hygiene, etc.) and the new couple’s routine which requires the restructuring of both partners’ roles.
Objective: To identify the main difficulties experienced by primiparous mothers after childbirth during the first six months of their infants’ life.
Methods: A level 1, quantitative, exploratory-descriptive study was conducted. The mothers were recruited from the parenting preparation courses at a differentiated maternity hospital in the center region of Portugal using an intentional sampling technique. The final group was composed of 11 primiparous mothers of full-term healthy newborns. Focus groups were conducted, the mothers’ accounts were subjected to content analysis, and the recording units were classified.
Results: Three categories on the mothers’ main difficulties during this period emerged from data analysis: post-partum recovery; infant care; marital relationship. These categories covered a set of difficulties related to post-partum and breastfeeding complications, getting into shape, and lack of time for oneself. It also included difficulties related to infant care, namely those related to breastfeeding, hygiene, comfort, feeding, safety, baby colic, and understanding the baby’s rhythms. The mothers reported that the couple’s relationship went “back and forth”, namely concerning the sharing of daily tasks, which was marked by little collaborative attitudes by their partners. Difficulties were also reported concerning the resumption of sexual activity, which was influenced by feelings of fear and insecurity.
Conclusion: The results showed that, although motherhood is an event marked by positive emotions, the difficulties in the mothers’ daily life can have a negative impact on the quality of parenthood. Nurses can play a key role in developing interventions aimed at meeting these needs, empowering these mothers and families, and improving the children’s development trajectories.
Implications for practice: The difficulties reported by the mothers can interfere with their ability to provide an effective response and, simultaneously, make them more vulnerable to both physical and emotional disorders which have a negative impact on the quality of their parenting. This study reinforced the need for parent empowerment interventions, reducing the barriers to the healthy development of motherhood.
The nurses’ effective intervention in this area can change this scenario by developing and promoting parent intervention programs which are sensitive to these difficulties and capable of providing mothers with more knowledge, competencies, attitudes, and interpersonal skills to promote an effective and healthy parenting. These issues and the effective responses to them should be included in nurses’ training.
Implications for research: There is a need to develop preventive interventions aimed at empowering mothers to respond to the main difficulties experienced during this period (post-partum recovery; infant care; and marital relationship) and assess their effectiveness through randomized trials, which also include the fathers.