Open Access Study protocol

“Expectant Parents”: Study protocol of a longitudinal study concerning prenatal (risk) factors and postnatal infant development, parenting, and parent-infant relationships

A Janneke BM Maas1, Charlotte MJM Vreeswijk1, Evi SA de Cock1, Catharina HAM Rijk1 and Hedwig JA van Bakel12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Developmental Psychology, Tilburg University, Room P-704, P.O. Box 90153, 5000, Tilburg, the Netherlands

2 Centre of Infant Mental Health, Dimence, Deventer, the Netherlands

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:46  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-46

Published: 11 June 2012



While the importance of the infant-parent relationship from the child’s perspective is acknowledged worldwide, there is still a lack of knowledge about predictors and long-term benefits or consequences of the quality of parent-infant relationships from the parent’s perspective. The purpose of this prospective study is to investigate the quality of parent-infant relationships from parents’ perspectives, both in the prenatal and postpartum period. This study therefore focuses on prenatal (risk) factors that may influence the quality of pre- and postnatal bonding, the transition to parenthood, and bonding as a process within families with young children. In contrast to most research concerning pregnancy and infant development, not only the roles and experiences of mothers during pregnancy and the first two years of infants’ lives are studied, but also those of fathers.


The present study is a prospective longitudinal cohort study, in which pregnant women (N = 466) and their partners (N = 319) are followed from 15 weeks gestation until their child is 24 months old. During pregnancy, midwives register the presence of prenatal risk factors and provide obstetric information after the child’s birth. Parental characteristics are investigated using self-report questionnaires at 15, 26, and 36 weeks gestational age and at 4, 6, 12, and 24 months postpartum. At 26 weeks of pregnancy and at 6 months postpartum, parents are interviewed concerning their representations of the (unborn) child. At 6 months postpartum, the mother-child interaction is observed in several situations within the home setting. When children are 4, 6, 12, and 24 months old, parents also completed questionnaires concerning the child’s (social-emotional) development and the parent-child relationship. Additionally, at 12 months information about the child’s physical development and well-being during the first year of life is retrieved from National Health Care Centres.


The results of this study may contribute to early identification of families at risk for adverse parent-infant relationships, infant development, or parenting. Thereby this study will be relevant for the development of policy, practice, and theory concerning infant mental health.

Attachment; Bonding; Mother; Father; Pregnancy; Risk factors; Representations; Infant