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BACKGROUND: Research into the impact of unintended pregnancy on the wellbeing of women tends to focus on pregnancies ending in either termination or lone motherhood. Unintended pregnancy is common in partnered women, but little is known about the association between unintended pregnancy and postpartum affective disorders, such as depression and anxiety in this group. Poor relationship quality and lack of social support are considered risk factors for psychological distress (PD). We examined the association between unplanned motherhood and subsequent PD in partnered women, for whom evidence is sparse, accounting for the role of relationship quality and social support. METHODS: Data for 12,462 partnered mothers were drawn from the first survey of Millennium Cohort Study, completed at 9 months postpartum. Women reported whether their baby was planned, and how they felt when they discovered that they were pregnant. Pregnancy intention is categorised as "planned", "unplanned/happy", "unplanned/ambivalent" and "unplanned/unhappy". PD was assessed using the modified 9-item Rutter Malaise Inventory. Social support was measured by a composite score for perceived support, and a measure of actual support from friends and family. Relationship quality was assessed using a modified Golombok-Rust Inventory of Marital State. The effect of pregnancy intention on the odds of PD at 9 months was estimated, adjusting for potential confounding factors. All analyses were weighted for response and design effects. RESULTS: In total 32.8%(weighted) (4343/12462) of mothers reported an unplanned pregnancy: 23.3 wt% (3087) of mothers felt happy, 3.5 wt% (475) ambivalent, and 6.0 wt% (781) unhappy upon discovery. Unplanned pregnancy was associated with a significantly increased odds of PD compared to planned (OR 1.73 (95%CI: 1.53, 1.95)). This was more pronounced among women who reported negative or ambivalent feelings in early pregnancy (OR 2.72 (95%CI:2.17, 3.41) and 2.56 (95%CI:1.95, 3.34), respectively), than those who reported positive feelings (OR 1.39 (95%CI:1.21, 1.60)). Adjustment for relationship quality, in particular, reduced odds of PD after unplanned pregnancy (e.g. from 2.19 (95%C: 1.74, 2.74) to 1.63 (95% CI: 1.29, 2.07 in the unplanned, unhappy group compared to the planned). CONCLUSIONS: A third of partnered mothers reported that their pregnancy was unintended, yet this group is under-researched. Unplanned motherhood was associated with increased risk of PD at 9 months postpartum, particularly among women who felt unhappy or ambivalent at the start. The roles of relationship quality and social support require further investigation, as possible means to intervene and improve maternal wellbeing.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Pregnancy Childbirth

Publication Date





Depression, Psychological distress, Unintended pregnancy, Unplanned pregnancy, Adult, Cross-Sectional Studies, Ethnic Groups, Family Planning Services, Female, Follow-Up Studies, Humans, Incidence, Infant, Male, Mothers, Northern Ireland, Pregnancy, Pregnancy, Unplanned, Prospective Studies, Risk Factors, Scotland, Sexual Partners, Social Support, Stress, Psychological, Wales