The transition to motherhood requires adjustments to new roles and growing demands on time and financial resources. Consequently, this transition can be a time of emotional upheaval and may lead to increased levels of maternal stress may occur. New mothers may be especially susceptible to maternal stress since they do the majority of the childrearing in the first year (Mercer, 2004). Research on parenting stress has identified social support as an important resource for coping with the demands of parenting (Mulsow et al., 2002), but, empirical studies also show that support is likely to differ based on one's socioeconomic status (Mirowsky & Ross, 2003). In addition, perceived support is most likely to have an effect if the type of support matches the perceived need (Cohen et al., 1985). Consequently, levels and effects of support may differ by maternal socioeconomic (SES) status since lower SES mothers may have different needs than higher SES mothers. The primary purpose of the current study is to investigate the associations between four types of perceived support, maternal educational attainment and maternal parenting stress at one year postpartum.
This study analyzes data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being dataset, a nationally based, longitudinal birth cohort study of approximately 4,800 mothers and their children. The study sample is drawn from the first year follow-up wave (n=2412) and includes only mothers who were involved with the father of the child at the time of the child's birth. Data were analyzed using ordinary least squares regression models to investigate direct effects of perceived support and education on maternal stress. First order interaction terms were created for each level of education by each type of perceived support to test a moderating effect of education on the association between support and maternal stress.
Results showed that perceived support from one's partner significantly lowers maternal stress regardless of the level or type of support (emotional, mothering or instrumental) that the partner provides. Expected financial support from kin or friends does not have an effect on maternal stress. Significant interactions were found for two types of partner support: support of mothering practices and instrumental support in that these types of support have stronger effects on higher educated mothers than less educated mothers. Increased symptoms of depression and fussy child temperament each increase maternal stress levels.
Conclusion and Implications
Investigation of the direct effect of various types of perceived support on maternal stress indicate that partner support is critical during the first year of motherhood. Although all types of perceived partner support have negative associations with maternal stress, not all types of perceived support affect maternal stress with the same magnitude. Findings from this study are unique since it is the first to examine the direct role of a mother's educational attainment in the level of her stress and support. Practice and policy recommendations include increased screening and assessment of mother's mental health in first year postpartum.