Maternal Health| Volume 27, ISSUE 3, P345-350, May 2017

Family Attitudes and Reactions toward Pregnancy among Women with Physical Disabilities

Published:February 16, 2017DOI:



      Historically, people with disabilities who become parents have confronted discriminatory societal attitudes and public policies. Today, although more women with disabilities are bearing children, little is known about the perceptions of their pregnancies, even among their family members. In addition, little is understood about how family members’ attitudes and reactions affect women with physical disabilities around the time of pregnancy.


      This qualitative study involved interviews with 25 women with physical disabilities from across the United States who had a baby within the past 10 years. Semistructured telephone interviews were conducted. Interviews were audio-recorded, professionally transcribed, and analyzed using an iterative, interpretive process.


      Women reported a wide range of physical disabilities. Before, during, and after pregnancy, participants reported experiencing wide-ranging attitudes and reactions from family members concerning their pregnancies. These responses fell into six categories: 1) initial negative reactions, 2) concern about mother's well-being, 3) questioning of parenting capability, 4) negative perceptions of disability, 5) genetic concerns, and 6) excited and supportive.


      This study sheds light on the attitudes and reactions toward pregnancy that women with physical disabilities experience from family members. Our findings suggest the need for increased social support and family education. Greater availability of peer supports as well as information for women with disabilities considering pregnancy is also needed.
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      Robyn M. Powell, MA, JD, is a research associate in the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.


      Monika Mitra, PhD, is an associate professor in the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.


      Suzanne C. Smeltzer, EdD, RN, FAAN, is a professor and Director of the Center for Nursing Research, Villanova University College of Nursing, Villanova, Pennsylvania.


      Linda M. Long-Bellil, PhD, JD, is an assistant professor in the Center for Health Policy and Research, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.


      Lauren D. Smith, MPH, is a research associate in the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.


      Lisa I. Iezzoni, MD, MSc, is a professor in the Harvard Medical School, Mongan Institute for Health Policy, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.