Internet-Based Support for Mothers: How New Mothers Can Find Support and Information Online
New mothers need support which their immediate family and friends are often unable to provide. In today’s increasingly fragmented society, the internet plays an important role in linking mothers with each other, giving them access to information, support and a vehicle for expressing opinions and issues.
New Motherhood: Difficult Emotions
Becoming a new mother can change your social world beyond recognition, especially if you have no friends with babies. Your partner may not necessarily understand, while relatives are often full of well-meaning but confusing advice. There is a tendency for everyone around the new mother to focus exclusively on the baby, which can be experienced as a loss of identity: suddenly, you are ‘just’ a mother, and all the other parts of you are ‘on the back burner’.
Our society has become increasingly isolated. Nuclear families, and often single-parent families, replace extended families and all the support that can bring. Without such help, parenting can feel like a heavy burden.
Parenting Books: Help or Hindrance?
This is where the parenting book industry steps in. Unfortunately, many of these books can have the effect of inducing confusion and self-doubt. No book can know every individual baby, and when mothers take the advice as gospel, the result can be unrealistic expectations, frustration and disappointment. If baby isn’t sleeping through the night by three months or conforming to a routine of naps and feeding times, mothers can feel like a failure.
Mother and baby groups can certainly be a welcome source of community support, but they can be competitive. Not everyone can get to them regularly, and not all mothers enjoy group situations.
The Internet as a Life-Line
In today’s increasingly rushed world, the internet has come to play a key role in our social lives. For a mother who is short of time and often in the home for long periods, this is a life-line. Typing can be done one-handed while holding a sleeping baby, and responses to posts are often more rapid than waiting for a friend to pick up the phone. The internet can, of course, also provide a way of finding out what groups and services are available in one’s area.
Forums for Moms
Forums provide an avenue for discussion about a huge variety of parenting topics. Forums are like ‘chat boards’ where, using an online pseudonym, moms can talk to each other. There are forums for expectant moms, new moms, and for parents who share particular philosophies of parenting – for example, Mothering supports ‘natural’ parenting. These forums give mothers all the options and information on everything from nappies to breastfeeding, to going back to work and childcare issues.
The Anonymous Factor
The anonymity of these forums can make mothers feel safe to share socially unacceptable things such as feeling angry at their ever-crying baby or feeling put off their partner. There is open discussion of potentially controversial parenting methods such as co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding (e.g. Kellymom), which will rarely be mentioned by a doctor or health visitor. Links to other sites with more information, are provided.
The internet is a wonderful tool for breaking the isolation that so many new mothers feel. While it can never replace an extended ‘tribe’, it gives mothers the opportunity to make more empowered choices, as well as to express their feelings and receive advice about a variety of issues.