Mothers to newborns and young children up to four years of age, should immerse themselves into different communities in the social media space. There are no constraints on different communities that are available in the online world, therefore any mother can be part of their own community based on their individual circumstance. Schedules for newborn babies and young children, differ based on their age as well as family preference, in the online world, mothers can connect with their communities at any time of day without the pressure to stick to a specific schedule. Social media sites have the ability to use algorithms that can potentially pick up negative trends in social media posts over the course of weeks, compared with only seeing face-to-face communities once a week, where information might be more selective. Online social ties with other members of the community, over time will allow everyone to feel connected emotionally, even if they have not met physically, this allows for mothers to potentially be more honest and open with the online community compared to face-to-face connections, where fear of judgment could be made. Social media communities benefit new expecting mothers and mothers to babies and young children by providing a place to connect with others in the same situation, regardless of their location, schedule and fear of judgement.
Mothers to newborns and young children up to four years of age, should immerse themselves into different communities in the social media space. There are no constraints on different communities that are available in the online world for mothers of babies and young children. Every family is different and based on those dynamics, family schedules differ. An online space can allow for mothers to feel connected to their peers and share information without fear of being judged. Social media communities benefit mothers to babies and young children by providing a place to connect with others in the same situation, regardless of their location, schedule and fear of judgement.
Historically, there has always been a strong focus on the health and well-being of infants and babies and there is now a strong recognition that mothers of babies and young children also need to feel supported. Typically, new mothers are likely to be adults in their twenties, thirties and sometimes forties and according to Sensis. (2018), 99% of participants aged 18-29 years and 96% of participants aged 30-39 years use social media and over half of these participants access social media more than five times a day. It is therefore not surprising that so many social media groups exist for new mothers and that with the already large amount of people using social media throughout the day, accessing some of these parenting specific groups, isn’t such a daunting experience for new mothers.
New mothers and mothers of young children under school age, joined traditional communities with the common thread being they were all mothers with similar aged children that reside in the same area. These face-to-face communities can be beneficial as research shows, social support, which is defined as a person’s feeling of being cared for by others and the belief that somebody will be there for them if help is needed (Glover et al. 2005), benefits the maternal health and wellbeing of new parents and their children.
Traditional communities and new mother groups typically meet once a week for approximately four to six weeks when a baby is up to twelve weeks of age (Department of Health, n.d), after these sessions there are single group sessions mothers can attend, depending on any other information that a mother may need. It is up to the mothers in the face-to-face groups to continue on with the community after these sessions have been provided by the government organisations. Whilst some mothers will find their sense of community within these groups, just having a baby at the same time and living close to each other, may not be enough to keep the community support long term as families grow and change over time.
Mothers joining social media groups in conjunction with traditional community supports, allows mothers to be part of multiple smaller communities and engage with other parents that are experiencing the exact same circumstance as them. Online communities for mothers have multiple private groups through platforms such as Facebook that allows mothers to interact with each other with similar sets of circumstance, such as, similar sized families, multiple births, similar cultures, age of the mothers, mothers that became mothers in non-traditional ways etcetera. The scope of different communities online is endless, and it allows for new mothers to find their community or communities that they feel most comfortable in.
As traditional community groups for mothers of newborns and babies meet once a week for around four to six weeks, the timing of those catch ups may clash with nap and feeding schedules of the babies and if the mother of the baby is having a day with their normal schedule needs to be adjusted, the mother might not be able to make that particular catch up. As there are only a few potential catch ups available initially, an online community makes sense as the new mother can post about their experiences and ask any questions to their peers within the community, at any time of any day.
Social media platforms have the ability to use algorithms to monitor user’s status updates and different posts that have been shared. It is through these different algorithms that it has now become possible for social media platforms to pick up if a new mother might be suffering from postnatal depression. Research by Morris (2015) shows that machine learning systems could classify major life events based on signals that are present in social media. The focus of this is whether or not the terms in the posts on social media are negative or positive. These algorithms can help families and professionals identify some of these traits of a mother of a baby or young child as the data is able to be processed over a larger period of time, with a smaller margin for error due to the mother letting their guard down on social media. In the context of face-to-face sessions, one session per week potentially will see the mother be more selective with what information they volunteer to their face-to-face peers for fears of judgement.
A controversial topic within society is schedules surrounding newborns and babies and their sleeping and eating habits. According to research by Porter and Ispa (2013), online forums reflected a wide range of childrearing beliefs and approaches. Advice from medical professionals can vary and each child is very different. When a mother is active within an online community, they have the ability to pick and choose what information they would like to share either about their own experience or take on board information from others that they may not know personally and use it in their own journey of motherhood.
Information and government guidelines with recommendations for new mother’s changes quickly and often. Research by Porter and Ispa (2013) shows that not all medical professionals are always up to date with the new guidelines, or they may not be open to alternate ways of nurturing babies. As all families are different, some recommendations may not work for certain families or children based on a wide range of reasons. Therefore, it is imperative that when it comes to holistic overall care for babies and young children, a wide range of mothers from different locations, beliefs, professions, and experience, need a safe place that can help enlighten one’s motherhood journey. Whilst all medical suggestions should be confirmed with a medical professional, online social media communities can be a wonderful place to help broaden mother’s minds to other ways of thinking when it comes to raising their children.
Due to the amount of pressure that is put onto mothers of babies and young children, at times, mothers may not feel as comfortable speaking their whole truth about certain situations in regard to how they may be coping when it comes to their babies or young children. A study by Ellison et al. (2007) showed that the use of Facebook can have a positive affect when people are friends in an online community as they are able to keep “weak ties” with each other. These positive effects are especially true for those people who have lower self-esteem levels and therefore, within new mother’s online communities, they may have more self-confidence to voice their opinions and struggles than with those in their offline communities due to feeling a bond in a different way to a face-to-face connection.
It is clear that Social media communities benefit new expecting mothers and mothers to babies and young children by providing a place to connect with others in the same situation, regardless of their location, schedule and fear of judgement. On average, 95% of females aged between nineteen and thirty-nine, access social media, therefore it is not a surprise that many mothers are turning to social media to form their own communities. Mothers of new babies and younger children benefit when they join online communities that are tailored to their specific needs, which can be accessed at any time of day without fear of judgement when sharing their personal opinions or struggles. Even though face-to-face communities have their place in a women’s journey into motherhood, there is a positive place for online communities through social media.
Australian Government Department of Health. (n.d). Postnatal Depression. Health Direct. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/postnatal-depression
Department of Health. (n.d). Parenting Groups. Healthy WA. https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Parenting-groups
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, 12(4), 1143-1168. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x
Gibson, H., Harman, B., & Guilfoyle, A. (2015). Social Capital in Metropolitan Playgroups: A Qualitative Analysis of Early Parental Interactions. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 40(2), 4-11.http://doi.org/10.1177/183693911504000202
Glover, T., Parry, D., & Shinew, K. (2005). Association, sociability, and civic culture: The democratic effect of community gardening. Leisure Sciences, 27(1), 75–92. http://doi.org/10.1080/01490400590886060
Heaperman, A., & Andrews, F. (2020). Promoting the Health of Mothers of Young Children in Australia: A Review of Face-to-face and Online Support. Health Promotion Journal of Australia. 31(3), 402-410. http://doi.org/10.1002/hpja.334
Morris, M. (2014, February 15). Social Networking Site Use by Mothers of Young Children. [Paper Presentation]. 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing. USA. http://doi.org/10.1145/2531602.2531603
Porter, N., & Ispa, J. M. (2012). Mothers’ Online Message Board Questions About Parening Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Advance Nursing. 69(3), 559-568. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.06020.x
Sensis. (n.d). The Must-know Stats from the 2018 Yellow Social Media Report. https://www.sensis.com.au/about/our-reports/sensis-social-media-report
12 thoughts on “Online Social Communities Benefit Mothers of Newborns and Young Children.”
I found your paper really intriguing as it’s not a topic I often think about in relation to social media. The daily routine and schedule of a mother is quite unique, and it is so interesting to learn of how social media can be adopted to suit their lifestyle. Especially since these groups can be so niche, as you mention, that they can be tailored to really cater for the individual. The positives of having such a space for mothers to confine in one another and share their experiences is so important as it gives these mothers access to the support they need, when they need it.
I found what you discussed about algorithms being able to pick on emotion as a particularly fascinating area! This would be such a powerful tool if it were to accurately pick up on subtle signs given off within a post. But often with sentiment software such as this, they can miscategorise text, as human emotion can be conveyed in rather complex ways for a machine to understand, such as the use of sarcasm. But it would be really interesting to see how this field continues to develop in the future!
One thing that might be worth considering, is that although there is greater access to a wide variety of information and perspectives online, there is the potential for these groups, as with most groups online, to become an echo chamber of sorts. Thus, it could be recommended for mothers to be a part of several groups, but again this would ultimately be up to the individual. Another thing to consider with the greater influx of information would be how these mothers determine credibility online, as in which groups and information they believe to be trustworthy. You mention how they should confirm medical information with professionals, but I would be interested to know if there were any kind of designated moderators within the actual online groups to ensure information is reliable?
Something else I was thinking when reading about these groups, was that when they are “sharing their personal opinions or struggles”, how much of this content involves the child to some degree? I wonder this because a mother and their child’s relationship can be seen as a relational identity (Blum-Ross & Livingstone, 2017), meaning that these two identities are often inextricably linked. When the mother shares her own experiences being a mother, this could potentially be a form of ‘sharenting’ (Blum-Ross & Livingstone, 2017), even if the child is not the main focus of the post. The child does not have a say in whether they consent to this information being shared online, and it raises questions about what the best ethical practice is for satisfying the mothers need to support and the child’s right to privacy.
Blum-Ross, A., & Livingstone, S. (2017). “Sharenting,” parent blogging, and the boundaries of the digital self. Popular Communication, 15(2), 110-125. https://doi.org/10.1080/15405702.2016.1223300
If ever there was a time to get online for support regarding child-rearing it would have been last year and this year with Covid-19 restrictions in place. While much misinformation can be distributed online, joining an online community can definitely help with feeling out issues and getting a sense that you’re not alone, there are others struggling, experiencing something similar, or have some advice you’d like to try. I think it would be extremely beneficial for those who find that for whatever reason can’t get out of the house to engage in person or as you pointed out might not like to raise an issue in person but feel more comfortable doing it from behind a computer. They can still feel connected and part of a community.
This was an interesting read. Thank you.
Please feel free to check out my paper on the music fandom community:
Your paper is a really interesting read and caught my eye as being only 20 years of age I hadn’t even thought about the possibility for ‘online mothers group’ in a sense. It’s such a great way to share stories, get second opinions and connect with people who are going through similar things to you. My mum always speaks about how helpful her traditional-style mothers group was, and she in fact moved to social media to keep in touch with those mothers and on the occasion they share stories with them about their kids now as they know they can relate having kids of the same age bracket.
I like that you approached the use of social media to form a community in a positive light as I have a cynical view on the effects of social media; being that I generally automatically associate it with unfriendly communities, online hate and cyber bullying. I feel like mothers that engage in online communtiies would experience both negative and positive engagement and that it could be quite difficult to find a community that doesn’t have at least a few people that are judgemental or unsupportive. Would you agree?
This also makes me think about how on social media there is always the sense of the unknown ; self representation is determined by self. People’s online identity is what they make it and they chose what they want to share and what they don’t want to. It makes me think that if mothers aren’t sharing all the hardships of being a mother and only the good things that this could have detrimental mental health implications to some of the other mothers. I acknowledge that in real life scenarios this could also be the case, but personally I find it easier to read people in real life and from what I know of a mothers group is that you bring your babies along and so people can see first hand what their parenting is like. I feel like social media could act as a barrier between fantasy and reality and this could represent motherhood incorrectly.
You make a lot of valid points so would love to hear your thoughts on what I have said 🙂
First of all, in the spirit of fostering a positive community on the topic of motherhood, I just wanted to say that no matter which parenting styles you chose to adapt, raising two babies at the same time would be no easy feat and you deserve a medal!
I agree with so much of what you have written here. Council run mother’s groups, while planned with the best of intentions, are problematic and unable to cater to all participants. Aside from the logistics of a physical meet up, I found that all I had in common with my mother’s group was a close geographical proximity and the fact that we were new parents, which you mentioned. Being unable to find similarities with my group made me feel anxious and made me second guess myself when I was doing something differently to everyone else. The group quickly disbanded once the planned sessions ceased, and I saw no real benefit for me personally from attending.
It wasn’t until I had my second baby that I sought connection online. Since this, I have joined a myriad of social media groups specific to my interests and ideologies from modern cloth nappy troubleshooting, to buy, swap and sell groups to sleep school programs, all to great benefit. Your assertion that weak ties can foster more openness is interesting, and I agree that I have enjoyed the relative anonymity that these groups provide and perhaps have been more honest in my interactions because of this.
The research you touched on about machine learning being able to detect possible depression is particularly interesting, and I wonder how this will evolve over time to hopefully help some people. Of course there is always a flip side, and I acknowledge that the picture perfect mothering we sometimes see on the internet can be damaging, but I do feel my experience with internet communities in motherhood has been overwhelmingly positive and agree with your assertion.
Thanks for your reply Jessica.
Looking at your comment, I can see that a lot of what I have written resonates with you. I found it such an interesting topic but also a sensitive one to some people.
I hope that as time goes on, more and more mothers will have the knowledge and the courage to seek the groups that best serve them and not engage with the ones that do not have a positive impact on their mental health.
I have been thinking about this and have to ask, can we really classify online influencers and mummy blogs as communities if they are so one sided and do not support the women who are following them? Of course those particular blogs and influencers will have followers that have similar views and could be classified as their communities, but I guess what i am getting at is, the social online communities for mothers is a personal decision and finding the right group to call their community is imperative.
I certainly agree that education around these issues is a great first step in helping new mothers find their community, but unfortunately the need for these groups comes at a time when we are sleep deprived and experiencing huge changes both mentally and physically, and when we are perhaps not thinking as clearly as we normally would. Sifting through the internet at 3am trying to find support and answers is potentially not the best way to find a positive and uplifting community. This new state of being that we are experiencing as new mothers potentially makes it difficult to see through the fog, and be able to rationally recognise whether a Facebook group or an Instagram page is actually helping or hindering us in our mothering experience, and its effect on our mental health.
I think following blogs and social media pages of those whose values align with our own can be an empowering thing – there is something comforting about seeing someone else operate in the same manner as you do, especially if you do not have these examples in the real world. I guess with many things on social media, it all does need to be taken with a grain of salt, but recognising this on no sleep is sometimes half the battle!
Oh I totally agree. Sleep deprivation is so terrible. I remember it well with 3 kids under 2!! eek!!
I agree with you that like everything in the real world and the online world, pick and choose what information and suggestions suit yourself and your family. Not everyone is for everyone and that is ok.
The online social networks have a long way to go but hopefully the shift to more positive communities than negative ones can occur in the near future.
Hi Melissa, a great paper! Your topic caught my eye instantly, as it is definitely an interesting and relevant topic in our modern, technology-crazed society! In saying this, after conducting some of my own research on this topic, I was wondering if you believed that excessive use of blogging and social media sites in particular had negative repercussions on new mothers? A paper I read looked into how social media sites and influencers which are new mothers themselves, displayed unrealistic perceptions of motherhood, including exaggerated depictions of femininity and consumerism (McDaniel, Coyne & Holmes, 2012). I believe that these aspects, and also blogs and Facebook forums like you mentioned, would have the potential to put a lot of stress on new mother’s, as they may feel that there are certain expectations and ‘rules’ that they must meet and follow. This, in the long run, may negatively affect their transition into motherhood and their judgement of their own competency. I definitely do agree with your points you have presented in your paper, but would love to hear your thoughts on the impact of social media in particular.
McDaniel, B., Coyne, S., & Holmes, E. (2011). New Mothers and Media Use: Associations Between Blogging, Social Networking, and Maternal Well-Being. Maternal and child health journal. 16(1), 1509-1517. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51806926_New_Mothers_and_Media_Use_Associations_Between_Blogging_Social_Networking_and_Maternal_Well-Being
Thanks for taking the time to read my paper.
I 100% agree with you that social media can really impact new mothers mental health. I think there are positives and negatives to both for sure. It definitely depends on the group that the new mother joins and it may take a little while to “find your people”.
I come from personal experience where I have twins, so I had joined the multiple birth association in my state which had its own private facebook group. The group was invaluable to me as being a mum of twins is so different from when I had my first baby.
I try not to take too much notice of the bloggers and the social media influencers in this space, as I have found that a lot of what is written is click bait and almost aimed at being a little bit controversial.
You make a lot of valid points and I think its just a mix of finding that balance and what works for each mother.
We have written on a similar topic although seemingly from different angles. My paper link will be at the bottom of the post if you care to read.
I like the link you make between the schedules of babies and the lack of time constraints is spot on and something my own research and personal experiences have revealed also. Online communities open up social circles unbound by time and space and are more available to everyone.
Having said that I wonder if this constant availability actually has a negative impact in some ways. You talk about mothers being able to be opened up to different methods of child rearing and how they can more freely choose but I think there is room to research whether these parenting methods are always healthy and also what kind of pressures mums feel to pick a “popular” parenting method instead. I realise my view is quite cynical on the topic but I can see room for further research on both sides of the spectrum.
Did any of your research show exactly in what way being in an online community is positive for mums or is it just the source of information you see as positive?
Thanks so much for reading my paper.
I tend to agree with you that it can be overwhelming for new mothers to pick the right parenting styles for them.
I guess it is like any sort of community and friendships which is, each person can take what they need from it and try and ignore the rest.
It may take a little while to find the right community that suits the new mothers needs, but they are definitely out there.
As I replied to Caitlin above, my own personal experience is with a multiple birth association when I had my twins. It was a private group with people living in our state and was an amazing support when the twins were little. This is compared to some of the wider twin groups which can be a bit nasty. So there is that need to search and find the right community for you.
Thanks for the reply!
Yes you are spot on there is a need to find and settle in communities that are right for you. I am glad you mentioned that the small and intimate nature of your multiple births groups made for a supportive and safe space, which is obviously in comparison to larger and more open groups.
When researching the way mums inadvertently reinforce patriarchial standards in online communities, I found that mothers on the internet represent a networked group of women who, through various online interactions, go through a stream of emotions and experiences together making them a community focused on supporting each other (Friedman, 2010, p.361-p.362) however issues within the online parenting communities arise when community members spark debate about what constitutes bad parenting by either fishing for compliments on otherwise perfectly acceptable parenting practices which brings out the insecurities in other members (p.361). It is obvious from your experiences that the smaller the group, the less likely you are to come across this kind of behaviour which is interesting as the whole idea of my paper is that mums are promoting this patriarchial motherhood, so I wonder why in a smaller group it’s less common?
Friedman, M. (2010). It Takes a (Virtual) Village: Mothering on the Internet. In A. O’Reilly (Ed.), Twenty-First Century Motherhood: Experience, Identity, Policy, Agency (pp. 352-365). Columbia University Press. https://doi.org/10.7312/orei14966.26