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The impact of mental representations in pregnancy

Recent research has begun to identify the importance of the mother’s capacity for mental representations, or her imagined relationship with her baby, in pregnancy.

Maternal representations in pregnancy can be measured using the Working Model of the Child Interview, which identifies whether women are ‘Balanced’; ‘Disengaged’ or ‘Distorted’.

  • Women who are described as ‘Balanced’, for example, can provide ‘richly detailed, coherent stories about their experiences of their pregnancies and their positive and negative thoughts and feelings about their foetuses’.
  • Women who are ‘Disengaged’, however, appear to be uninterested in the foetus per se or their relationship with it, and demonstrate ‘few thoughts about the babies’ future traits and behaviours or themselves as mothers’;
  • Women described as ‘Distorted’ tend to be ‘tangential or express intrusive thoughts about their own experiences as children, often viewing their foetuses primarily as an extension of themselves or their partners’

(Cited in Levendosky et al 2011).1

The importance of such representations is that research suggests that they are stable over time, such that women with ‘distorted’ or ‘disengaged’ prenatal representations still have them at one year post-partum. This study also suggested that they predict observed parenting behaviours.

Research also shows that maternal representations of their own attachment in pregnancy (measured using the Adult Attachment Interview) are associated with infant attachment security at one year of age. This finding is consistent with the findings about reflective functioning because attachment influences parental capacity for reflective functioning.

1Levendosky, A.A.; Bogat, G.A.; Huth-Bocks, A.C. (2011). The influence of domestic violence on the development of the attachment relationship between mother and young child. Psychoanalytic Psychology, Vol 28(4), 512-527.

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This article is from the free online course:

Babies in Mind: Why the Parent's Mind Matters

The University of Warwick

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

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    Watch this video. Professor Jane Barlow introduces the concepts of experience-expectant and experience-dependent brain development.

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  • Interview with Tessa Baradon: Part 1
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    In this interview Professor Jane Barlow talks to Tessa Baradon who is a parent-infant psychotherapist and Clinical Director of the Anna Freud Centre.