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Maternal sensitivity: a concept analysis


H. Shin:


Title. Maternal sensitivity: a concept analysis.

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to report a concept analysis of maternal sensitivity.

Background.  Maternal sensitivity is a broad concept encompassing a variety of interrelated affective and behavioural caregiving attributes. It is used interchangeably with the terms maternal responsiveness or maternal competency, with no consistency of use. There is a need to clarify the concept of maternal sensitivity for research and practice.

Data sources.  A search was performed on the CINAHL and Ovid MEDLINE databases using ‘maternal sensitivity’, ‘maternal responsiveness’ and ‘sensitive mothering’ as key words. The searches yielded 54 records for the years 1981–2007. Rodgers’ method of evolutionary concept analysis was used to analyse the material.

Findings.  Four critical attributes of maternal sensitivity were identified: (a) dynamic process involving maternal abilities; (b) reciprocal give-and-take with the infant; (c) contingency on the infant’s behaviour and (d) quality of maternal behaviours. Maternal identity and infant’s needs and cues are antecedents for these attributes. The consequences are infant’s comfort, mother–infant attachment and infant development. In addition, three positive affecting factors (social support, maternal–foetal attachment and high self-esteem) and three negative affecting factors (maternal depression, maternal stress and maternal anxiety) were identified.

Conclusion.  A clear understanding of the concept of maternal sensitivity could be useful for developing ways to enhance maternal sensitivity and to maximize the developmental potential of infants. Knowledge of the attributes of maternal sensitivity identified in this concept analysis may be helpful for constructing measuring items or dimensions.