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Perceived Partner Support in Pregnancy Predicts Lower Maternal and Infant Distress

Women who received more support from their partners during pregnancy experienced less distress postpartum and reported that their infants were happier, too.

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  • N: 272
  • Subject Ages: Mean maternal age was 30 years
  • Location: United States, prenatal clinics affiliated with two large urban medical centers
  • SES: Diverse populations in terms of maternal education, income, and ethnicity/race
  • Eligibility: Women who reported being in an intimate relationship with a partner at T1, were pregnant, at least 18 years of age, at 18 weeks singleton gestation or less at enrollment, and able to be interviewed in English
  • Additional:
    • 79% of the current sample was married at T1, and all but three reported their partner was the baby’s father
    • 53% non-Hispanic White, 21% Latina, 1% African American, 10% Asian American
    • Distribution of annual household income was 16% under $30,000, 27% from $30,000-60,000, 24% from $60,000-90,000, and 33% over $90,000 (mean household size 2.9 persons)
    • 12% held a high school diploma or less education; 36% held a technical degree, certificate, associate’s degree, or attended some college; 52% held a bachelor’s degree or higher
    • 58% having a first birth 
    • Infants were born on average at 39.0 weeks gestation
    • 50% of the infants were male


  1. Maternal interpersonal security and relationship satisfaction would covary inversely with prenatal maternal emotional distress and positively influence perceptions of partner support, consistent with prior research (Rini et al., 2006).
  2. Higher ratings of prenatal partner support would predict lower maternal postpartum emotional distress, as indicated by symptoms of depression and anxiety when controlling for prenatal symptoms.
  3. Partner support would mediate associations of relationship satisfaction and interpersonal security with postpartum outcomes.
  4. Prenatal and postpartum maternal emotional distress would be associated with more distressed infant temperament.
  5. Also tested was a set of hypotheses regarding indirect effects of support via reductions in maternal emotional distress based on past research (Davis et al., 2007) and direct, inverse effects of partner support on infant temperament.

Variables Measured, Instruments Used

  • Maternal interpersonal security (T1) -
    • a version of the Adult Attachment Scale (AAS; Collins & Read,1990) that contained three subscales (five items each): comfort with closeness, comfort depending on others, and anxiety about being rejected by others
    • the Network Orientation Scale
  • Relationship satisfaction (T1) - the Marital Adjustment Test (MAT; Locke & Wallace, 1959)
  • Partner support (T2) -
    • the Social Support Effectiveness (SSE) interview
    • the Pregnancy-Specific Support Needs questionnaire created by author based on prior research (Collins et al., 1993)
  • Maternal emotional distress (T1, P1) -
    • the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI; Spielberger, 1983)
    • the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Santor & Coyne, 1997)
  • Infant distress to novelty (P1) - modified version of the Infant Behavior Questionnaire (IBQ)

Design—Longitudinal, prospective



  1. Mothers who perceived stronger social support from their partners mid-pregnancy had lower emotional distress postpartum after controlling for their distress in early pregnancy, and their infants were reported to be less distressed in response to novelty.
  2. Partner support mediated the effects of mothers’ interpersonal security and relationship satisfaction on maternal and infant outcomes.
  3. A high-quality, supportive partner relationship during pregnancy may contribute to improved maternal and infant well-being postpartum, indicating a potential role for partner relationships in mental health interventions, with possible  benefits for infants as well.


  • Self report: Future investigations may include data from both partners and additional temperament measures.
  • Depression and anxiety measures were not diagnostic tools.