Mothers’ perinatal and infant mental health knowledge in a Johannesburg township setting
Objective: This paper examines maternal knowledge regarding perinatal and infant mental health amongst mothers in Alexandra township, Johannesburg. The applicability and utility of these Westernderived concepts in a low socio-economic South African setting is examined.
Method: A concurrent mixed methods approach was used. Descriptive statistical analysis was conducted on the responses of 255 mothers on a structured questionnaire, designed to elicit levels of knowledge about the relational needs and awareness of infants and the psychosocial needs of mothers, to determine trends in mothers’ knowledge. A thematic content analysis was also conducted on the responses to determine themes and understandings within the mothers’ responses.
Results: Maternal knowledge in Alexandra regarding perinatal and infant mental health correlates with maternal education levels. Cultural, contextual and psychological factors appear to influence maternal understandings of infant sentience and maternal ambivalence.
Conclusions: Further research is required to determine possible contributions of the denial of negative maternal affect post-birth to elevated levels of post-natal depression found amongst South African mothers parenting in adverse circumstances. There is a need for education regarding key messages from the neuroscience of development, to give these parents opportunities to raise their children in a way that supports healthy cognitive and emotional development.