Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


Using reciprocal determinism as a model an examination of the inter-relationships between environmental factors, personal experiences and behaviour following childbirth was undertaken. Three different samples of women were studied. Each group had given birth under different environmental conditions. The first sample gave birth in a hospital which practiced routines that led to separation of the mother and child; the second comprised women who gave birth to a premature infant; and the third was of young low socio-economic status mothers. The women were interviewed while still in the hospital, in the home when the children were three months old, and again when they were eighteen months old.

Background biographical data were recorded and home environments assessed in order to determine the past and current environments of these mothers and their children.

A schedule for observing mother-infant interactive behaviours was developed for each home visit. Behaviours were recorded for ten minutes on each occasion. Factor analysis of this data produced seven factors for each age period. Social contacts with another adult proved to be important to mothers when the children were three months old. At the eighteen months visit the childrens' increased independent activity produced several child behaviour factors. Loving, playing and child-care behaviours also proved important.

Interview data provided information on the mothers' personal experiences on each occasion. Content analysis scales were used to assess their affective reactions to this psychosocial event. There were marked differences in the three samples' personal reactions to the birth. For mothers of healthy infants giving birth was a time of warm feelings and increased intimacy. The mothers who experienced routines leading to separation expressed significantly more angry and lonely feelings relating to the medical procedures and hospital shortly after birth. Mothers of premature infants found that their birth experience was gained at great emotional cost. Their warm feelings increased as the likelihood of the child's survival improved, but their worries only diminished slowly. The young working class women had difficulty in expressing feelings. They tended to somatise their stresses and their affective responses resembled those of people who have been described as alexithymic. They were difficult to locate for follow up visits.

Warm and loving behaviours were associated with positive emotions in the mothers, and women performing routine caretaking behaviours expressed more negative feelings. At three months leaving the baby lying down was related to recollections of lonely feelings in the hospital, and at eighteen months, hostility was related to some of the behaviours of mother and child.

The patterns of interacting environmental factors, personal experiences and behaviour showed that reciprocal determinism is a valuable model for the study of psychosocial events. The complexity of the results preclude presentation in, this abstract of all the interactions observed, but the foregoing are examples of some of the relationships discovered. As well as observing different interactive patterns for each sample of mothers it was also evident that each woman responded as an individual, interpreting her own experience, integrating it into her ongoing and developing family pattern, and making decisions about her own and her family's future.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.