Having your first baby is an incredible milestone in any couple’s life. It’s the time when they become a family, and of celebration for their new arrival. However, as many new parents will admit, it can also bring with it exhaustion, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Why do new parents feel isolated?
Suddenly finding yourself at home with a tiny baby to look after can be very stressful, especially if you have been used to working regularly, meeting friends, being able to decide what you want to do and not having to plan around sleeping times and a crying baby.
New research carried out for AXA PPP healthcare by Netmums found that over a quarter of new mums (28%)* say they are lonely after their baby is born. Nearly a quarter of new mums don’t live near any of their family, and so don’t have that support at a time when they really need it.
Health visitor Irene Welch, from Bromley in Kent, who has two children of her own, believes that loneliness is a problem that can be caused by a combination of factors centred around the pressures of modern life – how we live today.
‘Most people live a long way from their parents, and the extended support of the communities they grew up in. So when they have a baby they don’t have people around – mums, sisters etc. ‒ to help and advise, and to give them a break if the baby’s not sleeping.’ Even when families are close by, the new mum’s mother is often in work, so isn’t able to offer childcare and support.
‘The age at which women have babies has gone up – the average is now 28 – and most women that I see are in their early to middle thirties.’ Most of these women will have spent their lives working, and may not have built up a local network of friends near where they live.’
Being away from work and work friendships can be quite a difficult adjustment. ‘Having a new baby can feel like starting again,’ says Irene Welch. ‘Some new mums find it hard when they have difficulty managing their new baby. Their confidence drops and they feel a sense of powerlessness.’
Who is affected by parental loneliness and isolation?
When loneliness and feeling isolated carry on, and mums don’t talk about it, this can lead to low mood, and even a risk of postnatal depression. This is why it is so important to talk about how you’re feeling.
Being a first-time parent isn’t easy for new fathers either. It can be hard for them to know where they fit in and what they should be doing. ‘New dads are often scared of doing something wrong and worry about hurting the baby,’ says Irene Welch. ‘They can worry that they aren’t living up to their wives’ expectations.’
In most cases new fathers will be having to cope with sleepless nights, and then having to go to work in the morning. Mums with partners, single mums and stay at home dads can all experience the problems that come with feeling isolated.
Some new mums report that their social network has decreased since having a baby, with 14%1 above of those in the survey carried out for AXA PPP healthcare by Netmums saying that they haven’t really made new friends since they gave birth. (This figure increases to 34% for younger mums, aged 18 to 24.)
Combatting parental loneliness and isolation
There are some easy – and free ‒ ways for expecting and new parents to combat loneliness. ‘It’s really important to start making some connections in the antenatal period,’ says Irene Welch. There are local Children and Family centres in most areas now. Here they run antenatal classes, where you can meet other mums-to-be. Often these centres are also where you see your midwife, which is another opportunity to meet other mums who live near you.
You can also join the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and have your antenatal classes there. Going to antenatal classes is really important, because you’ll meet people at the same stage of pregnancy, may meet them again on the labour ward, and then meet up with them socially afterwards. Some friendships made in early pregnancy carry on through the babies’ school years and for decades beyond.
Health tech to overcome isolation
Using social media such as apps for your mobile phone, tablet or computer, or websites such as Netmums and Playdates can make meeting other new mums quick and easy if you have access to the internet.
- Parents Nearby is a free app that you can download from iTunes. Through this app you can make contact with other parents who live in your area, find parents with similar interests, or children of similar ages to yours.
- Playdates is a leading UK social network. Joining the website is free and can help you to find other parents and carers locally. You can arrange to meet up, and organize ‘events’ with a number of other Playdates friends.
- Netmums is families of local sites that help local families meet up and share information and provides parents with access to local support and advice services.
Remember there is always support from your GP or Health visitor if the situation seems to escalate or is concerning. Plus you can sign up to the NHS Information Service for Parents.
*AXA PPP healthcare online survey of 3,000 UK mums conducted during January 2015 by Netmums