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Mental representations in pregnancy

Watch this video. Professor Jane Barlow describes how mental representations in pregnancy manifest, and the way in which this can be measured.
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Last week, we examined the way in which aspects of the mother’s mind, such as her capacity for reflective functioning, influenced her parenting behaviours, and as a result, the infant’s attachment security. We discovered that the parents’ reflective functioning is strongly associated with their parenting behaviours and thereby, a significant factor in influencing the baby’s attachment status and therefore their internal working models. Recent research has also begun to identify the importance of the mother’s cognitive representations during pregnancy. The bodily changes that occur in pregnancy and the physical movements of the unborn baby that are experienced from around the second trimester of pregnancy are also accompanied by significant psychological transformation and reorganisation.
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This transformation and reorganisation is thought to focus specifically on the woman’s identity as a mother, a reworking of her relationship with her own mother and the developing relationship with the baby. The latter is normally characterised by both feelings of closeness to the baby, but also a recognition of the baby as a separate person. These cognitive and emotional maps of thoughts and feelings are known as mental representations and the mother’s mental representations of her unborn baby, herself as a mother-to-be and the pregnancy, can be assessed using a procedure called the working model of the child interview. This interview identifies whether women are balanced, disengaged or distorted.
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Women who are described as balanced, for example, can provide a rich and detailed description of their experiences with their pregnancies and these narratives are on the whole highly coherent. These pregnant women talk fluidly, not only about their positive thoughts and feelings about their unborn baby, but also about their negative feelings. Women who are disengaged, however, appear to be uninterested in the unborn baby or their relationship with him or her. They also show little interest in what their baby’s future traits and behaviours might be like, or in themselves as mothers.
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Women described as distorted tend to express intrusive or tangential thoughts about their own experiences as children, and these women also often view their unborn baby primarily as an extension of themselves or their partner. One study showed that 51% of women had balanced representations, with 30% being disengaged and 19% having distorted representations in pregnancy. 79% of the women with balanced representations in pregnancy were also balanced post-nataly, and 62% of women with non-balanced representations in pregnancy still had them post-nataly. This means the some women change from being unbalanced to balanced and vice versa.
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However, this study also showed that the women who are unbalanced in pregnancy and then became balanced post-nataly, were less sensitive, more disengaged and less warm in their interaction than women who were balanced at both times. There are now many studies showing that such representations in pregnancy are important in terms of later care-giving and also in terms of the infant’s attachment security. Don’t forget to tell us what you think about the material this week in the discussions.

Last week we spent some time thinking about the concept of reflective functioning, and its impact on infant attachment as a result of the way in which it influences the parent-infant interaction.

This video describes how mental representations in pregnancy manifest, and the way in which this can be measured.

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Babies in Mind: Why the Parent's Mind Matters

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