Parenting stress in the early years – a survey of the impact of breastfeeding and social support for women in Finland and the UK



Swanson V & Hannula L (2022) Parenting stress in the early years – a survey of the impact of breastfeeding and social support for women in Finland and the UK. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 22 (1), Art. No.: 699.

Background Being a new parent can be both joyful and stressful. Parenting stress is associated with poorer health and well-being for parents and infant and increased psychological distress. For new mothers, physical and hormonal changes, expectations of mothering and demands of a new baby may cause additional stress. Breastfeeding is promoted as optimal for maternal and infant health, but can have both positive and negative psychological impacts. Formal and informal social support can offset parenting and breastfeeding stress. Source, content and context of support for new parents are important considerations. This study compares two countries with different parenting and breastfeeding contexts, Finland (more supportive) and the UK (less supportive), investigating the role of breastfeeding stress, self-efficacy and social support as predictors of stress and role strain for new mothers. Methods A cross-sectional online survey was completed by 1550 breastfeeding mothers of infants up to 2 years old, recruited via social media platforms in Finland and the UK. Predictors of parenting stress and strain, including demograpic factors, childbirth experiences, breastfeeding and social support were investigated. Results We found fewer differences between countries than expected, perhaps due to demographic and contextual differences. Women in Finland reported better childbirth experiences, more positive breastfeeding attitudes, and more self-efficacy than in the UK. Levels of parenting stress were similar in both countries. Women in the UK reported more parental role strain, but fewer breastfeeding stressors. Participants accessed more informal than formal supports, including their partner for parenting and facebook groups and family for breastfeeding. Analysis suggested breastfeeding stress and social support had significant direct effects – respectively increasing and reducing parenting stress and role strain, but no moderating effects of social support suggesting support did not change the relationship between breastfeeding and parenting stress. Conclusions Results have important implications for the provision of breastfeeding and parenting support for new mothers. Simple interventions to manage stress for mothers in the postnatal period could be beneficial and are easily delivered by supporters. As shown elsewhere, socio-economic and cultural factors are crucial influences on parenting experiences.

Postnatal parenting stress; Role strain; Breastfeeding stress; Social support; Self-efficacy; Policy context

BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth: Volume 22, Issue 1

Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online10/09/2022
Date accepted by journal09/08/2022
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media LLC

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Professor Vivien Swanson

Professor Vivien Swanson

Professor, Psychology