Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 173–196 | Cite as

Pre-conception to parenting: a systematic review and meta-synthesis of the qualitative literature on motherhood for women with severe mental illness

  • Clare DolmanEmail author
  • Ian Jones
  • Louise M. Howard
Original Article


The majority of women with a severe mental illness (SMI) become pregnant and have children. The aim of this systematic review and meta-synthesis was to examine the qualitative research on the experiences of motherhood in women with SMI from preconception decision making to being a mother. The experiences of the health professionals treating women with SMI were also reviewed. Eleven databases were searched for papers published up to April 25, 2012, using keywords and mesh headings. A total of 23 studies were identified that met the inclusion criteria on the views of women with SMI, eight reported the views of health professionals including one which reported both. The meta-synthesis of the 23 studies on women's views produced two overarching themes Experiences of Motherhood and Experiences of Services. Sub-themes included the following: Guilt, Coping with Dual Identities, Stigma, and Centrality of Motherhood. Four themes emerged from the synthesis of the eight papers reporting the views of health professionals: Discomfort, Stigma, Need for education, and Integration of services. An understanding of the experiences of pregnancy and motherhood for women with SMI can inform service development and provision to ensure the needs of women and their families are met.


Pregnancy Severe mental illness Systematic review Qualitative research 



The authors thank Kylee Trevillion (KT) for her help with quality appraisal.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Women’s Mental Health, Health Service and Population Research DepartmentBox PO31 Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Psychological Medicine and Neurology, MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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