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Motherhood and the 'Plunket Book' : a social history : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
The Well Child/Tamariki Ora Health Book (the Plunket book) is a small booklet
given to New Zealand mothers on the birth of a child. It has been used by nurses
as a tool to record growth and development from birth to five years since the
1920s. Although use of the book decreases over time, it is frequently kept within
the family and handed on from mother to child. Utilising an oral history
approach, this study has traced the development of the Plunket book over time
and explored the experiences of a group of 34 women and one man who have
reflected on their ownership of, or involvement with, Plunket books. The study
found that the Plunket book remains an effective clinical tool for mothers and
nurses. Mothers have used the book as a tool to link past with present, to
maintain kinship ties across generations, to deal with change intergenerationally,
and in a manner that contributes to their self-identity as woman and mother.
Although mothers were able to use the book to affirm their own knowledge and
that of their mothers, a medically dominated discourse persists in the book. The
book has also played a role in facilitating the interaction between mother and
nurse, providing an opportunity to explore the relationship in detail. The study
found that the most successful relationships at any time were those that bordered
the division between a professional relationship and a personal one: it was not the
information that nurses offered but the interaction and resulting care they
provided that was important to the mothers in the study. The study recommends
that nurses and other health professionals continue to use the Plunket book as a
clinical tool mindful of the fact that the book remains in use beyond the health
professional’s immediate involvement with the mother and child, playing an
important role in the context of the New Zealand family across generations.
Future versions of the book should contain written reference to the strengths and
abilities the mother holds as she cares for her child, reaffirming her role and
identity as mother not only when her children are younger but as they grow and
become parents themselves.