Pregnancy Intentions of First-Time Mothers and Their Children's Outcomes: Unraveling Reciprocal Pathways

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Department or Administrative Unit

Family and Consumer Sciences

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This current study tested a cross-lagged model to examine reciprocal associations among maternal depressive symptoms, parenting stress, positive parenting practices, and coparenting satisfaction, and whether they served as pathways through which pregnancy intention was associated with children's outcomes.


Unintended pregnancy is prevalent in the United States and has been linked to negative outcomes for children. However, few studies have identified mechanisms through which pregnancy intention is associated with children's outcomes.


The sample included 224 first-time mothers from the Predicting and Preventing Neglect in Teen Mothers Study. Mothers completed a series of questionnaires across several time points between the third trimester of pregnancy and 36-months postpartum. A cross-lagged autoregressive model was used to determine pathways through which unintended pregnancy was associated with child outcomes, and bootstrapping analyses were used to test significance of indirect effects.


Results revealed multiple pathways through which unintended pregnancy was associated with children's externalizing, internalizing, dysregulation, and social–emotional competence at 36 months. Maternal parenting stress and positive parenting practices emerged as the most salient mechanisms in the association, and depressive symptoms continued to directly predict later child outcomes.


Unintended pregnancy tends to be associated with use of fewer positive parenting practices and more parenting stress, which over time is associated with negative child outcomes.


Mothers experiencing unintended pregnancies may benefit from early intervention to address parenting and depressive symptoms in order to promote healthy outcomes among their children over time.


This article was originally published in Journal of Marriage and Family. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Journal of Marriage and Family


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