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Trajectories of social support in pregnancy and early postpartum: findings from the All Our Families cohort



Low social support during the perinatal period can increase the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety after giving birth but little is known about women’s trajectories of social support during this time. This study will identify trajectories of social support among women from second trimester to 4-month postpartum, and the characteristics associated with different trajectories.


Data from the All Our Families longitudinal birth cohort was used to assess women’s perceived social support during their second trimester, third trimester, and at 4-month postpartum (n = 3387). Group-based trajectory modeling was used to determine the number of groups, shape of trajectories, and proportion of women with differing trajectories. Multinomial regression was used to compare probability of group membership.


Six distinct trajectory groups were identified, with the majority of participants belonging to groups with stable, high social support (60.6%). Only 2.7% of women had consistently low levels of social support, and 2.3% had rising levels. Membership in groups with lower levels of social support was associated with lower incomes and minority ethnicity. Women whose support improved over time may be more likely to be employed in pregnancy than those whose support remained low.


Trajectories of social support are relatively stable in pregnancy and early postpartum. Socio-demographic indicators of vulnerability predict initial levels of support, and participating in the workforce may help improve perception of support over time.

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We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study and the All Our Families research team. We are extremely grateful to the investigators, coordinators, research assistants, graduate and undergraduate students, volunteers, clerical staff and managers. We would like to thank Dr. Scott Patten for his helpful feedback on drafts of this work. This study was funded by Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, Interdisciplinary Team Grant #200700595. EH receives scholarship funding from the University of Calgary, Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research Vanier Scholarship.

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Correspondence to Erin Hetherington.

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Ethical approval

Ethical approval for this study was granted by the Conjoint Health Research Ethics Board of the University of Calgary and has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. All participants gave their informed consent prior to their inclusion in the study.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Data used in this study are available upon request from

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Hetherington, E., McDonald, S., Williamson, T. et al. Trajectories of social support in pregnancy and early postpartum: findings from the All Our Families cohort. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 55, 259–267 (2020).

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  • Social support
  • Pregnancy
  • Employment
  • Mental health
  • Trajectories