Background Child maltreatment can have serious effects on development and physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Any long-lasting relational effects can impede the capacity to nurture children, potentially leading to ‘intergenerational trauma’. Conversely, the transition to parenthood during pregnancy, birth and the early postpartum period offers a unique life-course opportunity for healing. This systematic review aims to understand the pregnancy, birth and early postpartum experiences of parents who reported maltreatment in their own childhood. Methods A protocol, based on the ENTREQ statement, was registered with PROSPERO. We searched Medline, PsycINFO, CINAHL, EMBASE, NHS Evidence and key Web of Science databases from date of inception to June 2018 to identify qualitative studies exploring perinatal experiences of parents who were maltreated in their own childhood. Two reviewers independently screened articles for inclusion and extracted data. Data were synthesised using grounded theory and thematic analysis approaches. Findings The search yielded 18329 articles, 568 full text articles were reviewed, and 50 studies (60 articles) met inclusion criteria for this review. Due to the large number of studies across the whole perinatal period (pregnancy to two years postpartum), this paper reports findings for experiences during pregnancy, birth and early postpartum (27 studies). Parents described positive experiences and strategies to help them achieve their hopes and dreams of providing safe, loving and nurturing care for their children. However, many parents experienced serious challenges. Seven core analytic themes encapsulated these diverse and dynamic experiences: New beginnings; Changing roles and identities; Feeling connected; Compassionate care; Empowerment; Creating safety; and Reweaving a future. Conclusions Pregnancy birth and the early postpartum period is a unique life-course healing opportunity for parents with a history of maltreatment. Understanding parent’s experiences and views of perinatal care and early parenting is critical for informing the development of acceptable and effective support strategies.
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