Fear of childbirth during pregnancy: associations with observed mother-infant interactions and perceived bonding

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Fear of childbirth (FOC) is a common phenomenon that can impair functioning in pregnancy but potential longer term implications for the mother-infant relationship are little understood. This study was aimed at investigating postpartum implications of FOC on the mother-infant relationship. A UK sample of 341 women in a community setting provided data on anxiety, mood and FOC in mid-pregnancy and subsequently completed self-report measures of postnatal bonding in a longitudinal cohort study. Postnatal observations of mother-infant interactions were collected and rated for a subset of 141 women. FOC was associated with maternal perception of impaired bonding, even after controlling for sociodemographic factors, concurrent depression and the presence of anxiety disorders (Coef = 0.10, 95% CI 0.07-0.14, p < 0.001). Observed mother-infant interactions were not associated with FOC (Coef = -0.01-0.03 CI - 0.02 to 0.02, p = 0.46), weakly with concurrent depression (Coef = - 0.10, CI - 0.19 to 0.00, p = 0.06) and not associated with anxiety disorders. The self-efficacy component of FOC was most strongly associated with lower reported bonding (Coef 0.37, 95% CI 0.25-0.49, p < 0.001) FOC makes a distinct contribution to perceived postpartum bonding difficulties but observed mother-infant interaction quality was not affected. This may be due to low self-efficacy impacting psychological adjustment during pregnancy. Targeted interventions during pregnancy focusing both on treatment of key childbirth fears and bonding could help women adjust earlier.

Original languageEnglish
JournalArchives of Women's Mental Health
Early online date17 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Dec 2020


  • Anxiety
  • Fear of childbirth
  • Parent-child relations
  • Postpartum
  • Pregnancy


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