PhD in Nursing Science Program

Sharon M. Karp

The Effects of Maternal Psychosocial Factors on Maternal Competence for Infant Feeding


Dissertation under the direction of Professor Melanie Lutenbacher


The purpose of this project was to assess the relationship of maternal psychosocial factors on maternal competence for infant feeding in a sample of first-time, adolescent mothers. A cross-sectional, correlational design was used for this study. Mothers (n=67) were recruited from a pediatric primary care clinic and a local WIC clinic. All mothers completed semi-structured interviews that included standardized measures with the PI per approved Institutional Review Board protocols. Maternal age ranged between 15 to 22 years. Reports of maternal self-esteem and social support were high, along with a moderate percentage of mothers reporting high depressive symptoms. Most mothers attempted to breastfeed (53%) but few breastfed their infant beyond six months. Inappropriate food choices (e.g., french fries) and practices such as cereal in their babies’ bottles and starting solid foods prior to six-months of age were reported. Additional inappropriate feeding practices identified included giving greater than 6 ounces of juice a day and 8 ounces of water a day, and incorrectly preparing the formula. Only 12% of mothers reported a healthcare professional as influential in telling them how to feed their baby. Maternal attitudes related to infant feeding were found to be related to psychosocial factors. Higher depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem and functional social support were associated with maternal concern that the infant was undereating and at risk for becoming underweight, concern that the infant was hungry and not satisfied, and concern that the infant was overeating and at risk for becoming overweight. Maternal knowledge of infant feeding practices was negatively related to maternal depressive symptoms. In addition, maternal skills related to infant feeding were negatively associated to depressive symptoms and positively associated with reports of high social support.

This study adds to the growing body of knowledge and helps frame future research related to the numerous contextual factors in adolescent mother’s lives (e.g., their primary support person) and the impact on their parenting practices. In addition, it raises the notion of the importance of evaluating the psychosocial health of young mothers and the influence it can play on their parenting practices.