Open Access Research article

Peer-mentoring for first-time mothers from areas of socio-economic disadvantage: A qualitative study within a randomised controlled trial

Christine A Murphy1, Margaret E Cupples2*, Andrew Percy3, Henry L Halliday4 and Moira C Stewart5

Author Affiliations

1 Royal Group of Hospitals, Belfast, Northern Ireland

2 Division of Public Health Medicine and Primary Care, Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland

3 Royal Group of Hospitals, Belfast, Northern Ireland

4 Regional Neonatal Unit, Royal Maternity Hospital and Department of Child Health, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland

5 Department of Child Health, Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland

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BMC Health Services Research 2008, 8:46  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-8-46

Published: 27 February 2008



Non-professional involvement in delivering health and social care support in areas of socio-economic deprivation is considered important in attempting to reduce health inequalities. However, trials of peer mentoring programmes have yielded inconsistent evidence of benefit: difficulties in implementation have contributed to uncertainty regarding their efficacy. We aimed to explore difficulties encountered in conducting a randomised controlled trial of a peer-mentoring programme for first-time mothers in socially disadvantaged areas, in order to provide information relevant to future research and practice. This paper describes the experiences of lay-workers, women and health professionals involved in the trial.


Thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with women (n = 11) who were offered peer mentor support, lay-workers (n = 11) who provided mentoring and midwives (n = 2) who supervised the programme, which provided support, from first hospital antenatal visit to one year postnatal. Planned frequency of contact was two-weekly (telephone or home visit) but was tailored to individuals' needs.


Despite lay-workers living in the same locality, they experienced difficulty initiating contact with women and this affected their morale adversely. Despite researchers' attempts to ensure that the role of the mentor was understood clearly it appeared that this was not achieved for all participants. Mentors attempted to develop peer-mentor relationships by offering friendship and sharing personal experiences, which was appreciated by women. Mentors reported difficulties developing relationships with those who lacked interest in the programme. External influences, including family and friends, could prevent or facilitate mentoring. Time constraints in reconciling flexible mentoring arrangements with demands of other commitments posed major personal difficulties for lay-workers.


Difficulties in initiating contact, developing peer-mentor relationships and time constraints pose challenges to delivering lay-worker peer support. In developing such programmes, awareness of potential difficulties and of how professional support may help resolve these should improve uptake and optimise evaluation of their effectiveness.

Trial Registration Number: ISRCTN55055030