Pre-natal couple conflict and negative family environment across the transition to parenthood

Open Access
Goslin, Megan Catherine
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 11, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Dissertation Advisor
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Committee Chair
  • Mark E Feinberg, Committee Chair
  • Sandra T Azar, Committee Member
  • Ginger A Moore, Committee Member
  • Doug Granger, Committee Member
  • pre-natal couple conflict
  • parenting
  • co-parenting
  • parental depression
  • HPA axis
The transition to parenthood is stressful for the majority of couples. The current project examined potential pre-natal risk and protective factors related to the quality of the post-natal family context, guided by a stress and coping framework (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). The following three aspects of the post-natal family context were studied, given their relevance to early childhood mental health: parent depressive symptoms, parenting negativity, and coparenting conflict. Pre-natal couple conflict was proposed to increase the level of individuals’ stress while also depleting resources for coping effectively with the normative difficulties associated with first-time parenting. Therefore, it was predicted that individuals with more frequent, hostile pre-natal couple conflict would exhibit greater difficulties with post- natal depressive symptoms, parenting negativity, and co-parenting conflict. Moreover, the project examined the role of two pre-natal factors hypothesized to buffer the post-natal family context from the negative influence of pre-natal couple conflict by reducing parents’ stress and increasing their coping resources. These two protective factors are the expectant parents’ (1) HPA axis functioning and (2) level of social support. The moderating role of parent sex was also examined. Results of HLM analyses nesting mothers and fathers within couples revealed partial support for study hypotheses. Findings from this study contribute to the growing literature examining the effects of couple conflict on family outcomes and have implications for understanding the development of early childhood mental health difficulties.