When Carol McBee had her first baby in 2008, the 26-year-old mother marched herself into the Alberta government’s New Moms Network program. It was led by a dynamic public health nurse and allowed her to meet other new moms from her city. The savvy nurse even distributed a contact list so all the moms could stay in touch outside of the group meetings.
The program abruptly ended due to the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, so Carol took it upon herself to launch her own brand of mom groups: Mommy Connections.
“I thought, ‘maybe I’ll start a program and meet a few new moms.’ I had seven weeks to plan it, and I got 67 moms!” says Carol with a laugh, identifying the clear need for this type of program in Canadian cities.
Carol is the first to tell you she is no wallflower. But she recognizes that most new moms have a need to connect with others…even if they are too shy or feeling too out-of-sorts to recognize that need. “Everybody’s fat, everybody’s tired, it’s totally like an out-of-body experience when you’ve had your first baby.”
That can lead to isolation, real or perceived. Many mothers get the baby blues after giving birth, much more extreme is postpartum depression (PPD). New mothers living in big cities are more prone to PPD, according to a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
In fact, close to 10 percent of new mothers in cities with populations exceeding 500,000 might experience PPD versus between five to seven percent of moms living in small towns or rural areas.
“Social support is important for prevention,” says Dr. Simone Vigod, a psychiatrist at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and lead author of the study. “The benefits of connecting to other moms include having people validate your feelings of happiness for being a mom, which may conflict with your feelings of being under pressure now that you have a 24-hour dependent.”
Dr. Vigod points out that cities have larger numbers of new Canadians who might not have family close by or could feel isolated due to language and cultural barriers. Non-Canadian mothers can have culturally-specifi c needs that might not be met by simply sending in a public health nurse.
One caution from Dr. Vigod is to make sure connections with other new parents feel authentic, and not competitive. Sometimes it’s not helpful to hear other parents talk non-stop about their baby’s “illustrious” achievements, nor about how a certain parenting strategy is the “right” one. Remember, all children develop differently and therefore different parenting strategies ands styles may be needed depending on a child’s temperament and needs.
You’re Not Alone: New Mom Tips to Try
- Join a Mom Group: Mommy Connections is now available in 22 locations across the country. The six to eight-week programs range from $80 to $120. Carol McBee notes that guest speakers relieve the pressure for moms who don’t have the energy to socialize.
- Get Practical Support as well as Social Support: Dr. Vigod says while a grandparent might not feel comfortable babysitting, if they want to help, perhaps they can run errands.
- Check Out Free Programs: Public libraries, community centres and schools often run drop-in programs. If you don’t want to commit to a longer-term program or it’s not in your budget, these centres can be extremely helpful.
- Try and Leave the House Once a Day – Even if it’s Just to Get Milk: The fresh air and interaction with other adults is critical. Hanging out online is fun, but nothing replaces an in-person connection.
- Partners Take Note: Often just validating mom’s feelings that she had a tough day with a crying baby can be very helpful.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2013.