Author Identifiers

Delicia Dorothy Pereira
ORCID: 0000-0001-9707-0838

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (Human Biology)


School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dr David Coall

Second Advisor

Dr Anna Callan


Background: Parental bonding during childhood is known to have a significant impact on an individual’s life-long health. The influence of early parent-child relationships may be particularly strong in mothers who are pregnant with their first child. In this study, these emotional bonds were explored using the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI), a retrospective and quantitative measure of parental bonding. The PBI has not been validated in a pregnant population, nor has its consistency been examined across the birth of a child. Therefore, this study: i) validates the factor structure of the PBI for the first time in an Australian population of pregnant first-time mothers; ii) examines the stability of the PBI across the birth of their child; and iii) investigates the impact parental bonding has on a mother’s mental and physical health during pregnancy.


The data for this study was originally collected as part of a larger study of 660 pregnant first-time mothers. The PBI factor structure was examined using exploratory factor analysis. Correlations between PBI factor scores and childhood socio-economic status and stressful life events experienced before 16 years of age, were assessed to further validate the PBI. To test the stability of the PBI, the consistency of participants’ recalled parental bonding before and after the birth of their first child was assessed. The PBI was used to further determine whether any changes in recollections of parental bonding were associated with stress during pregnancy, birth complications, or symptoms of depression. The relationship between recollections of parental bonding and mental and physical health outcomes, including social support and stress experienced during pregnancy, risk of depressive symptoms, the participant’s age at baby’s birth, pre-pregnancy body mass index, and smoking during pregnancy were all examined.


This validation of the PBI established three factors: parental Care, Overprotection and Autonomy. Greater parental Care and independence was apparent in the higher socio-economic status childhood environments. Lower parental Care and a greater restriction of Autonomy was reported by women who experienced more childhood psychosocial stress. There were strong correlations between prenatal and postnatal parental factor scores and no statistically significant differences between these scores demonstrating high levels of reliability, validity and consistency. The exception to this was women who experienced a more challenging beginning to motherhood (e.g., foetal distress, baby feeding method at discharge, postnatal depression) recalling a more positive relationship with their mother in the postnatal PBI. Maternal Care was found to be the most significant predictor of participant mental health during pregnancy as it was identified in a number of outcomes.


This thesis demonstrates that parental bonding during childhood is an important contributor to maternal health during pregnancy for first-time mothers. These results identify the PBI as a valuable measure in clinical and research settings for investigating the impact a pregnant woman’s early developmental environment has on her life-course. Clinically, these findings highlight the need to identify women who may require additional support services in an effort to prevent intergenerational risk factors and optimise maternal and child health.

Access Note

Access to Chapters 4, 5, and 6 and Appendices 9.8, 9.9 and 9.10 of this thesis is not available.


Paper Location