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Empathy in pregnant women and new mothers: A systematic literature review
journal contributionposted on 27.04.2020, 00:00 by RJ Boorman, DK Creedy, J Fenwick, Olav Muurlink
Objective: This systematic review explores changes in perinatal empathy and influence on maternal behaviours and child development. Background: The well-being and development of infants are commonly linked to their mothers’ capacity for empathy. However, characteristic changes during pregnancy and childbirth including sleep deprivation, mood and cognitive difficulties may disrupt empathic processing. Methods: Original research papers (n = 7413) published in English language peer-reviewed academic journals were obtained by searching four electronic databases PsycINFO, PubMed, Scopus and CINAHL. Inclusion criteria were studies reporting empathy of women in the period from pregnancy to 12 months postpartum. Empathy was operationalised as a general tendency of empathic emotional responding and cognitive perspective taking. Thirteen studies were systematically assessed using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme criteria. Results: Impaired empathy in mothers, due most notably to high personal distress, was associated with risk of neglect or maltreatment of children and was partially explained by mothers’ aversive response to infant crying. Conclusion: Few studies present empathy as a central theme. There is a paucity of definitional parameters and theoretical linkages and over-reliance on brief self-report indices of empathy. Future studies need to be theory based, incorporate experimental approaches, and provide greater sampling diversity toadvance our understanding of empathy in perinatal women. © 2018, © 2018 Society for Reproductive and Infant Psychology.