Mothers Groups for New Moms
Why one (former) expat mother would love to see the US adopt this Aussie practice
New parents face all sorts of challenges. Even before the baby is actually born, there are questions to be answered. Where will the baby be born? What doctor would I like to deliver my baby? Or will I use a midwife instead? As an expectant mom in a country other than the one I grew up in, I felt I had even more questions than most. To start, I relied a lot on Google for help answering my questions. And while there seem to be things that each country does a little differently, there were two things I was really grateful for when it came time to giving birth overseas.
The first? The three nights I had at a 5-star hotel following my daughter's birth. This is standard practice for first time moms using private insurance in Australia. It was all arranged ahead of time and included transportation from the hospital to the hotel and around the clock nurses to help with the baby if needed (but with less interruptions and better food than we had in the traditional hospital setting). It was the perfect transition from the hospital birth ward to going home to face the new world of parenting all alone. The other standout thing that happens in Australia after the baby is born, which I really wish America would consider: a locally assigned and council-run mothers’ group.
“While being a new mom brings a lot of joy, it can also be lonely for some. New moms typically leave the house less, take more time off work, see fewer friends and sleep much less than they did before baby – and this can all lead to feelings of loneliness.”
What is a Mothers Group?
So, what exactly is a mothers’ group? Quite simply, it’s a support group consisting of new first-time moms who are there to share how they’re feeling, get advice and sympathize with other new moms on the highs and lows of parenting. While being a new mom brings a lot of joy, it can also be lonely for some. New moms typically leave the house less, take more time off work, see fewer friends and sleep much less than they did before baby – and this can all lead to feelings of loneliness.
To help combat the problem of loneliness and aide in new moms’ mental health, for the last 30 years or so, Australia has offered formally organized mothers’ groups free of charge to first-time parents. Research has shown that these groups are successful in helping to reduce the social isolation many new moms face. This makes perfect sense as the groups offer company, support or a much-needed break from long days at home with a fretful newborn and a house that probably could use a good clean.
In Australia, hospitals assign new first-time mothers to a group based on geographical area and the first meeting is typically organized about a month after baby is born. The first 6-8 sessions are hosted weekly by a third party, such as a maternal health nurse- and each week focuses on a helpful topic (such as first aide, feeding or sleeping issues). After these initial sessions, the group is left to organize meetings themselves, whether at a park, café or one of the women's homes. By the time the group is organizing its own meetings, it’s not uncommon for only a few to be able to make the get-togethers – but other catch ups might see every mom in attendance.
While pregnant, nearly every Aussie “mum” I spoke to inevitably would comment on their own mothers’ group. “Oh just wait until you get your mother’s group – it will be so helpful” I’d frequently hear. Most moms had at least one, if not several, ladies they continued to catch up with from their mother’s group years after having had their first baby. As an expat who didn’t know many other new moms in the area, I had high hopes for the group.
Sadly, by the time my own scheduled sessions finished up and the time came for my group to schedule our own catch-ups – along came Covid. In Melbourne, we faced 8 long months of harsh lockdown. And I do mean harsh: home visits were banned, outside exercise was limited to an hour a day, restaurants & cafés across the city were closed, and we weren’t allowed to leave a 3-mile radius of home. Needless to say, this made continuing the group challenging. Zoom meetings for a group of 14 women were hard and by the time restrictions lifted, many moms were back to work. Sadly, the high hopes I had for my group didn’t exactly pan out.
Even so, I am still a big fan of mothers’ groups! During the lonely months of lockdown, the group continued friendly banter on a WhatsApp group. Photos were shared of growing babies along with tips from parents coming up with creative ways to entertain little ones in lockdown. When sleeping or feeding issues presented themselves, there was always a mom willing to share advice, or at the very least, provide assurance that the other mom wasn’t alone. It was thanks to the advice of the group I came to find the childcare center I first enrolled my little one in. Plus, I did keep in contact with one mom - another expat who understood just how hard it was being away from family, let alone away from family during a global pandemic, and we’ve continued a friendship and the occasional playdates with our littles. Without these connections, a very lonely time may have been unbearably lonely.
This is why I personally encourage any new mom reading this to consider joining a mothers’ group if possible. In the US, where mothers’ groups aren’t as common, only about 37% of moms belong to one, according to a BabyCenter poll. A few hospitals in the country do help organize the groups – but most American moms (and dads!) will be left to find a group on their own. I personally hope this is something that will change in coming years, but for now I suggest heading online to find a group near you. You can search online for local groups, check with local community centers & churches, or talk to other new parents you come across naturally. Apps like Peanut have also popped up to try to fill this void. Worst case, if you’re unable to find a group that fits your needs or schedule using these resources, you can always use your own social connections or the online world to start your own group! Also feel free to follow us on Instagram @pramglam as we have a great community of new parents on our page. We're here for you, mama! xo