For new parents, there’s the good and the bad, and then there’s the Internet.
Online resources are a draw especially for that subset who’d spent their lives living in big bad baby-free cities or ran from anything child-related prior to having one. (Or who, like myself, once mistakenly bought a dog outfit for a newborn).
But with discussion forums and blogs, social networks and newsletters, are new parents an overcommunicated bunch?
Online forums: What a tangled web we weave
Some women experience three things during pregnancy: the perfect rounded belly, the glow and a boost of infallible self-confidence.
For the rest of us, there is WebMD and discussion threads on Baby Center and The Bump, with health facts and opinions, pandering to those who enjoy a late-night browsing session of diseases (with pictures) and self-diagnosing.
Had a sip of wine at a bachelorette party, a mom-to-be might confess on a forum like this. Will it harm my baby?
Well, I drank five glasses a week, and my husband is a doctor, and now my child is a spelling bee star, somebody might reply.
Then the others jump in. Would u poor alcohol in baby bottle and FEED UR BABY w it?
They’ll go on for a while, proving that mom wars begin before birth.
After gorging on these forums, an expectant mother might develop a fear of cheese, coffee, sunbathing, walking on bumpy roads, headaches, lettuce, nail salons, turkey sandwiches, rice, wine, seafood, sex, bubble baths. Exactly: Not much else is left.
Is none of it okay, or just a little bit?
Veronica, an attorney living in the San Francisco Bay Area, says she ditched discussion boards altogether. “I wouldn’t be intellectually influenced by something, but I probably could be emotionally influenced,” Veronica says. “When you’re pregnant, you’re typically more vulnerable and I wanted to protect myself against potential stressors.” Her go-to authoritative source was the Mayo Clinic’s website.
Erin, a nurse, also took the forums with a grain of salt. “Being a nurse, it would drive me crazy when moms would ask for serious health advice about their brand-new baby or infant instead of calling the pediatrician.” She did enjoy reading them when “lighthearted and interesting topics were discussed.”
Moms and Blogging
People collectively known as “mommy bloggers” are a new power pack that every PR company tries to woo. Mom bloggers provide inspiration, entertainment and escapism to millions of readers daily. Heather Armstrong, who goes by Dooce, serves up snark. Others, like Ree Drummond of the Pioneer Woman, eulogize the life in the country, with recipes and chronicles of homeschooling, horses and her rugged husband the Marlboro Man.
Some blogs elicit a chuckle, such as It’s Like They Know Us Tumblr, exposing ridiculous depictions of parenthood.
Others delve deeper into the netherworld of parenting, like this post about the tricky dynamics of moms groups. Or this one from Renegade Mothering, about the emotional struggles some new mothers face. Or this one from Cup of Jo, about post-weaning depression.
Unfortunately, many bloggers engage in culturally-accepted fear-mongering, like the Daily Mom Report, with recalls, toxicity alerts and Ebola information. Just the thing I needed after feeding my infant non-organic applesauce with a plastic spoon made in China.
The “social” in social networks
Facebook and other online groups help parents, especially when isolated following childbirth, to socialize and exchange instant advice. The Bay Area’s East Bay alone boasts dozens of parent Facebook pages, based on location (North Oakland Moms), family size (Alameda Moms of Multiples), language and convictions (Russian Natural Moms). Other networks include the nationwide Meetup groups, Mocha Moms for mothers of color, MOMS Club for stay-at-home moms, Babywearing International, La Leche League for breastfeeding support, and parenting-related subreddits on Reddit.
Last year, Ingrid Wiese Hesson of Beverly Hills used Facebook to organize a nurse-in at Anthropologie after a store clerk directed her to feed her child in the comfort of their toilet.
And more than 100 Target stores in 35 states became venues for a Facebook-enabled nurse-in after a breastfeeding shopper was threatened with a ticket there.
Similarly, groups like Breastfeeding/Mama Talk provide real-time advocacy and advice for nearly half a million of new moms nationwide.
Information overload? Maybe. Does social media suggest that everyone else has snot-free babies that sleep through the night, enjoys gourmet cooking and a raging social life, in sepia tone? Sure looks like it.
Francesca, a family services professional, stopped following her local Facebook parenting group because “it was way too active.” When her child was a newborn, Francesca’s go-to online source included the Longest Shortest Time podcast.
No news is good news?
Then there are community newsletters, where locals share advice, from babysitter tips to plumber recommendations, with readership in the thousands.
Given the anonymity of the newsletter, many feel comfortable posting Dear Abby-type messages, asking the community – 34,000 readers in the case of the Berkeley Parents Network – whether it’s okay to divorce an alcoholic spouse, soliciting advice about going Brazilian when giving birth, confessing cheating and depression. These newsletters offer a tremendous amount of support – in my next post, I might share the kind words of strangers that helped me get through the first year of being a mom.
Although meant to help, newsletters can deepen controversy and stress.
Last year, for instance, a Berkeley Parents Network member asked how to bring up the hot-button topic of vaccinations on a playground. It unraveled a trolling battlefield on both ends of the issue, with non-vaxers diagnosing the parent with clinical anxiety and a desire to control the world, urging professional help.
Or take the shy parent who shared feelings of rejection by mothers at her daughter’s school. While most offered comfort, one bared her bully fangs. “The poster has to consider the possibility,” the responder offered, “that she (or even her child!) are annoying or perhaps just uninteresting to others.”
Anonymity and civility don’t always agree. Commenters are nearly twice as likely to be uncivil when anonymous than when identifying themselves, showed a recent study from the University of Houston.
So anyways, about that Internet…
In my case, I allowed myself to slip into the Internet rabbit hole. The more I “researched,” the more I self-diagnosed when pregnant and badgered nurses and restaurant servers about ingredients; scanned Facebook forums at 12:05 a.m., 2 a.m., 4:30 a.m. instead of watching my daughter suck her thumb as she’d drift into sleep; browsed product reviews and warnings until I was convinced she was on the brink of being poisoned – until a friend suggested I was Internet-obsessed. And I quit.
Like anything, these resources ought to be used responsibly and in moderation. I’ll leave you with a video making the rounds since last week – summing it up better than I can.
If you are a new parent, have you found the online resources helpful or overwhelming? Any favorites?