Objectives: to investigate whether nulliparous women, during pregnancy, can identify their own pre-existing coping strategies for managing pain and anxiety and whether the range of coping strategies used in Labour by women who do not attend antenatal classes can be described. Design: qualitative semi-structured interviews. Setting: two large maternity units in a city in the North of England. Participants: twenty-three nulliparous women were interviewed during their third trimester of pregnancy (prior to any antenatal class attendance) regarding strategies used to cope with previous experiences of pain and anxiety. A separate sample of 20 women, who had not attended any form of antenatal education, were interviewed within 72h of their first experience of labour regarding the coping strategies used to manage pain and anxiety during labour. Findings: Template Analysis was used to code data from transcribed interviews. The findings indicate that as women approach their first experience of labour they can identify coping strategies that they have employed to manage pain and anxiety in their past. Equally women who have not attended antenatal classes use a wide range of strategies in labour. The range of identified coping strategies is described and comprises thoughts and behaviours with positive and negative consequences. Key conclusions and implications for practice: it is possible to help nulliparous women to identify, in pregnancy, a range of strategies that they have previously employed to manage pain and anxiety. This range reflects the coping strategies that women may potentially use in labour to manage pain and anxiety. Women may benefit from assistance in pregnancy to develop strategies for labour that are based on knowledge of their own coping repertoire, which includes enhancing positive strategies and finding alternatives to negative strategies. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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