The relationship between prepartum expectations about the transition to parenthood and actual postpartum experiences

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Virginia Tech


This study questioned if women who held unrealistic positive expectations concerning the postpartum period, prenatally, would experience more depression and less positive affect than women whose prenatal expectations were more realistic in relation to their postpartum experience. The 135 married women who participated in a LaMaze class completed a questionnaire at approximately seven months prenatal concerning their expectations about the postpartum period (6-8 weeks after delivery), as well as the Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI) and the Affect Balance Scale (ABS). The expectations questionnaire was re-administered 6-10 weeks after delivery to compare expectations to actual experience. The BDI and ABS were also readministered at this time to provide a change score between prenatal and postpartum depression and affect.

Positive expectations that proved to be unrealistic were compared with the BDI and ABS change scores. A high discrepancy between positive expectations and postpartum experience was not significantly correlated with depression on the BDI. However, unrealistic positive expectations were significantly correlated with decreased positive affect, postpartum, on the ABS. Three out of the four positive affect subscales of the ABS were significantly affected by unrealistic positive expectations. That is, prenatal unrealistic positive expectations affected these new mothers' positive emotions of vigor, contentment and joy, rather than their negative affect or depression. A prenatal self report index of child care information also correlated significantly with the discrepancy between expectations and postpartum experience. Participants with less child care information had more unrealistic expectations about the postpartum period.