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Large-scale study identifies key stress factors facing new mums


Tiredness, feeding their baby and lack of time to care for other children are three of the key stresses experienced by new mothers, according to a study in the latest Journal of Advanced Nursing.

861 women who had given birth during the last six weeks were asked to rate 85 potential stress factors on a scale of one to five, with higher scores indicating greater stress levels.

The women were all married, had delivered a single, healthy, full-term baby without complications and had no major postnatal complications or underlying medical problems.

Professor Chich-Hsiu Hung from the Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan has used the results to up-date a test she developed 11 years ago, which enables healthcare professionals to identify and treat stress among new mothers.

Three key areas were identified as stressful by new mothers taking part in the study. They were concerned about their maternal role, negative physical and lifestyle changes and lack of social support.

• The three highest stress factors expressed by the new mothers were all personal factors - tiredness, lack of sleep and decreasing social activity.

• When it came to caring for their baby, they were most worried about feeding, looking after the umbilical cord, nappy changing and bathing the baby.

• Lack of social support was also stressful, with less time to care for other children, sibling rivalry and inadequate emotional support from their families heading the list.

“The period after a woman gives birth is a potentially stressful time during which she must face dramatic changes and new demands” says Professor Hung. “Until now, few studies have attempted to measure these stresses.”

The responses given by the new mothers to the 85 questions have enabled Professor Hung to develop an improved 61-item Hung Postpartum Stress Scale.

“This up-dated and improved stress scale can now be used by healthcare professionals to identify the stresses experienced by new mothers and provide them with appropriate advice, information or support” adds Professor Hung.

“It may also help us to prevent the serious health problems that can develop after a woman gives birth.”

Annette Whibley | alfa
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