Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Nursing Science

Dissertation Committee

Patricia A. Roth, EdD, RN, Chair; Susan L. Instone, DNSc, CPNP, RN; B.J. Snell, PhD, CNM, RN


Lived experience, nursing, Phenomenology, pregnancy, prenatal maternal attachment, women


Prenatal maternal attachment and the practice of health promoting behaviors during pregnancy are considered universal phenomena to women. Yet, the understanding of these phenomena from the lived experiences of pregnant women has not been well researched. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the experience of maternal attachment to the unborn child and how that attachment might relate to the practice of these behaviors during pregnancy. The participants in this study were ten English speaking women, college educated, professionally employed, who were pregnant for the first time. Unstructured interviews were conducted with the participants at 14–16 weeks and at 26–28 weeks gestation. The data was analyzed using procedural steps of the phenomenological method. The themes that emerged through data analysis were: awareness of a life-changing event, experiencing a mixture of feelings, being protective, imaging a new life, being connected to this growing life, experiencing the reality of the life within, creating a dream or fantasy, and anticipating the birth. The awareness that this pregnancy would change their lives created a mixture of feelings. From the moments after their pregnancies were confirmed, these women embraced the awareness of the life inside of them and began to practice health-promoting behaviors that provided a certain reassurance for a healthy outcome. They were able to image the growing fetus through their changing body features, in addition to feeling a strong physical connectedness to this new life. Feeling the first fetal movements about 20 weeks gestation, confirmed the reality of this life within them. Dreaming and fantasizing occurred as more mental images of the baby were created, which encouraged these women to begin anticipating the birth while continuing to focus on a healthy outcome. The findings in this study shed new light on the phenomenon of prenatal maternal attachment and suggest that health-promoting behaviors may be an integral piece of the process of developing maternal attachment. Since promoting the health of the mother and fetus is a focus of the nursing role, further research about health teaching to foster these behaviors needs to be generated.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access



Included in

Nursing Commons