Darcey Powell, Roanoke College – Prenatal Expectations

On Roanoke College Week: Soon-to-be parents’ expectations are usually out of touch with reality.

Darcey Powell, assistant professor of psychology, discusses how pre and post-natal experiences can differ.

Dr. Darcey Powell, assistant professor of psychology, teaches child development and developmental psychology. Her research interests include the perceptions of adaptation after changes in family structure and size, and young adults’ expectations of and beliefs about parenthood and other “adult” roles.

Prenatal Expectations


Picture this… You have just found that you and your partner are expecting a baby. After the initial emotions fade away, you begin thinking about how you two are going to share the monumental tasks of keeping your tiny human being alive.

Those thoughts are what we call “prenatal expectations” and they tend to be idealistic. Not surprisingly then, prior research has found that frequently they do not align with parents’ actual experiences once the baby comes home from the hospital.

What happens when your expectations end up not being what you are experiencing?

These are “postnatal experiences.”

I sampled women’s expectations, experiences, and desires, as well as their adjustment to caring for a new baby, from their third trimester until 8 weeks after giving birth.

Examining postnatal desires was a better predictor of mothers’ postnatal adjustment and well-being than when only prenatal expectations and postnatal experiences were included. Specifically, both postnatal experiences and postnatal desires significantly predicted the women’s sense of competency for parenting their young infant, their feelings of stress from parenting tasks, their depressive feelings, and their in-the-moment feelings of anxiety.

Therefore, while it is good to think (and talk) about your expectations for parenting before the child is born, it is even better to continue to talk about how you and your partner perceive that you are sharing the duty of caring for your new child; and how you might find a compromise between you and your partner’s desires. It might be difficult to imagine finding times to regularly have constructive conversations about who is doing what and how often when you are sleep deprived and the baby is crying, but it just may well be worth it to your adjustment and well-being if you do!