The role of family and friends in providing social support towards enhancing the wellbeing of postpartum women: a comprehensive systematic review.JBI Libr Syst Rev. 2011; 9(10):313-370.JL
Maternal postpartum health is a neglected area both in research and practice. This aspect warrants more attention as the health of postpartum mothers has a considerable influence on her infant and also other family members. Social support provided by family and friends has been identified as a buffer against the many stressors faced by the women. Outcomes such as self-esteem, stress, postnatal depression, breastfeeding levels, infant care, and maternal adaptation have been studied and found to be significantly related to social support. The need to understand the role of social support provided by family and friends provide the impetus for conducting this review.
The objective of this systematic review was to appraise and synthesise the best available evidence which discusses the impact of social support from family and friends on enhancing the wellbeing of postpartum women.
This review includes women who were within their first year postpartum period, with any number of children, and had given birth to healthy infants. Mothers who had co-existing morbidities such as depression were excluded. Mothers from low socio-economic groups were excluded.This review considered any study that involved the provision of social support by family and/or friends. Interventions provided by peer counsellors were also considered.The six outcomes were stress, self esteem, breastfeeding levels, mental health in relation to postnatal depression, infant care and maternal adaptation.Quantitative This review considered any randomised controlled trials that examined the effectiveness of social support from family and friends on the well being of the postpartum women. As it was not likely to find RCTs on this topic, this review also considered observational studies (cohort, case control, quantitative descriptive studies such as surveys).Qualitative This review considered any interpretive studies that drew on the experiences of social support from family and friends in postpartum women including, but not limited to, designs such as phenomenology, grounded theory and ethnography.The search was conducted only in published literature in English. A search was conducted in the following databases: PsycINFO, MEDLINE, CINAHL, SCOPUS, THE COCHRANE LIBRARY, BMJ Clinical Evidence, Wiley Interscience, ScienceDirect and MEDNAR.Each paper was assessed independently by two reviewers prior to critical appraisal using Joanna Briggs Institute-System for the Unified Management, Assessment and Review of Information (JBI-SUMARI) developed by Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI).
Qualitative and quantitative data were extracted using the tools from the JBI-SUMARI DATA SYNTHESIS: Qualitative data was synthesised using QARI (Qualitative Assessment and Review Instrument). Quantitative data could not be pooled due to the lack of comparable RCTs or cohort studies and was thus presented in a narrative form.
This review included 24 quantitative articles, comprising of two RCTs and 22 descriptive studies. From these studies, social support was shown to have a significant positive correlation with outcomes such as breastfeeding, infant care, maternal adaptation, and self esteem. In addition, social support was shown to have a negative correlation with the levels of stress and postnatal depression. This indicated that increasing the social support of postpartum women will promote breastfeeding, infant care, maternal adaptation and self esteem. Rendering social support also aids in buffering their levels of stress and postnatal depression.Three qualitative articles were included in this review. Meta-synthesis of the qualitative findings yielded 17 findings which were grouped into seven categories and then further categorised into one synthesised finding which was, "Motherhood as a period of learning, adjustment, seeking positive social support whilst buffering against stressors'. This synthesised finding suggested that social support offered by family and friends has both positive and negative effects with which the postpartum mothers have to learn to cope.
Family members such as the partners and grandmothers should be involved in the provision of care towards the postpartum women. The support from peer volunteers may also contribute to the desired health outcomes. Healthcare professionals ought to be equipped with the knowledge on social support so that they can better assess the needs of the postpartum women and develop a support plan.Further research is necessary to better understand the negative effects of social support and to test interventions to buffer them. The effectiveness of the various types of social support interventions should be subject to further testing in future research. Further research may help to identify which support provider is more effective in enhancing a particular health outcome.