The experiences of first-time mothers with colic infants
The purpose of this study is to explore and describe the experiences of first-time mothers with colic infants. Based on the results, implications for clinical practice are described for the clinical psychologist with regards to providing psychological support for these mothers. The research design is qualitative, exploratory, descriptive and contextual. Data was collected by means of in-depth, semi-structured, phenomenological interviews and a descriptive analysis was done. The results show that the real versus the imagined experience of having a baby does not meet mothers' expectations. Furthermore, a colic baby elicits numerous anxieties including anxiety about the baby being damaged/ill, the feeding and leaving the baby in the care of others. Mothers battle with feelings of failure, which may be compounded by a stressful labour/delivery. Multiple attempts to soothe the baby or find an effective treatment result in feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. In turn, hopelessness and depression result. Mothers also perceive others' making judgments about their ability as a mother, while anxiety about failure undermines their capacity to accept support. Furthermore, mothers require affirmation from their baby. Their continued search for a cure offers hope that understanding and control can be gained. However, conflicting information and advice leave them feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Moreover, mothers feel disillusioned with medical personnel and the profession. Both medical and psychological factors are perceived as possible causes of, or contributing factors to, colic, and mothers experience guilt that stressors during their pregnancy may have contributed to their babies' being colicky. In addition, colic is seen as a punishment for perceived wrongdoings during pregnancy. Given the above, mothers need a containing figure, a function fulfilled by some husbands. If their own mothers are unavailable to contain their anxieties, substitute figures are found. In addition, practical support is experienced as helpful. Regarding maternal grandmothers, mothers identify with them, resulting in a new understanding of them and of the mother-daughter relationship. They also draw on their mothers' perception of their childhood experiences as positive or negative role models of parenting. Mothers feel ambivalent regarding the baby. They exhibit empathy although they perceive the baby as demanding, intrinsically difficult or rejecting. Consequently, mothers experience feelings of rage, resulting in fears of losing control and harming or abandoning the baby. These negative feelings are perceived as impacting on empathy for and bonding with the baby and result in feelings of shame and guilt. A colic baby is a source of stress in the couple's relationship, resulting in strained marital relations. Lastly, mothers renegotiate their identity as women and mothers. Several psychological defence mechanisms are used as a means of resolving emotional conflict and anxiety, and maintaining self-esteem. Clinical implications include adopting parent-infant psychotherapy as a framework for providing psychological support for these mothers. The study concludes that the colic period is stressful, places strain on the marital relationship and may pose a risk to the parent-infant relationship and child development. Lastly, psychological based interventions should be included as a resource for these mothers.
- ETD@PUK