• The aim of this research was to identify needs, perceptions and experiences of first-time mothers in the postnatal period.
• Data were collected through focus groups and in-depth interviews from a sample of 13 women, 61% were aged 20 years or less, from an urban city area in Southern Ireland. Through content analysis, key themes were identified relating to birth and hospitalization, support, motherhood and psychological issues.
• Attendance at antenatal classes was variable and perceptions of being unprepared for birth and motherhood prevailed. Participants appeared shocked at the amount of pain experienced during birth and had little rest during hospitalization. They received physical and emotional support and preparation for childcare from midwives. Breastfeeding, while promoted, by midwives was not acceptable.
• The ‘maternal mother’ was key in providing direct childcare, advice and emotional help, support for attendance at school and ‘time out’ to socialize. Support was reciprocal if the maternal mother had young children.
• Professional support by public health nurses was well-established. However, emphasis was perceived to be on ‘baby's development'.
• Maternal depression, loneliness, living in homes with limited space and difficulty in ‘letting go’ of baby care to return to school or work were reported.
• Implications for antenatal preparation, national policies, motherhood, and the need for further research are discussed.