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It takes a (virtual) village to support new Mums

Being a Mum is often referred to as the ‘best job in the world’ but it’s also one of the most difficult – especially for those navigating motherhood for the very first time.

The University of Southern Queensland’s Acting Midwifery Program Director Danielle Gleeson has explored the value to new Mums of friendship and support through Facebook in her research article, ‘It takes a virtual village: childbearing women’s experience of a closed Facebook support group for mothers’, published overnight in Australian journal, ‘Women and Birth’.

“There’s little literature around the role of closed or private groups when it comes to helping mums through life with a baby or toddler,” Ms Gleeson said.

“We know anecdotally that women feel that they aren’t getting the level of support they need through post-natal visits with midwives or their GP, and throughout the research we heard time and time again that women want more than just one opinion about birth, babies and ongoing care.

“Many mums-to-be and new mums gravitate towards big public Facebook groups looking for information but find there’s a lot of misguided advice there and there’s a lack of emotional support, so often look further to closed or private groups or start their own.”

Ms Gleeson said with more women starting families without their own family close by, the role of the ‘virtual’ village cannot be understated.

“We conducted in-depth interviews with women who were part of closed groups and we found that they enabled women to overcome isolation and form sustained, evolving and supportive friendships within a small, private and trusted group,” she said.

“The technology allowed women to share at a level much deeper than what they would in “real life", and they said the virtual support felt safer than face-to-face support as information could not impact one’s real-world reputation.

“Communication was also able to be controlled and this was particularly helpful to women experiencing social difficulties or isolation.”

Ms Gleeson said the study provided a unique and rare insight into the private world of closed online mothers’ groups, and she’d like to see maternity health professionals play an extended role in suggesting the groups to their clients.

“By encouraging, locating and establishing similar groups, midwives and other health professionals could assist women to access their own ‘virtual village’,” she said.

“Understanding how women get additional support, and what they like about it, is of great benefit not only to health professionals but women with children more broadly."

mother and children on ipad
Mother and her children enjoying time on the iPad.