PROVO — New moms who blog seem to transition into parenthood with a greater sense of social support and connection. And that can mean less depression, parenting stress and negative marital adjustment, according to research conducted at BYU.
For the study, which will be published in the Journal of Maternal Child Health, the Brigham Young University researchers surveyed 157 new moms about their use of the Internet and what they did there. They found the moms, whose average age was 27 and most of whom had been married for about three years, spend roughly three hours a day on the computer, most of that time online. They found no particular connection between time spent on social network sites like Facebook and MySpace and maternal wellbeing, but one did exist with blog use, whether as a reader, a writer or both.
The researchers considered maternal wellbeing to include marital satisfaction, couple conflict levels, parenting stress and maternal depression.
"Blogging may improve new mothers' wellbeing as they feel more connected to the world outside their home through the Internet," they wrote.
"I have always been interested in the transition to parenthood," said lead author Brandon T. McDaniel, a BYU undergraduate at the time of the study who is now pursuing his master's and doctorate degrees at Penn State. "It is an amazing time and also extremely stressful and difficult to go from being a couple to raising a child." Noting the popularity of blogging, particularly so-called "mommy blogs," McDaniel wanted to assess whether they helped that transition. He was aided in the research by co-authors and assistant professors in the BYU School of Family Life, Sarah M. Coyne and Erin K. Holmes.
Surfing the web
McDaniel was surprised by how long the new mothers spent on computer each day, but said the question was whether it was a good or bad thing. "It appears from this study it could be a good thing as long as it is not taking away time for direct interaction they should be having with the infant. It looks like those who participate in blogging have greater feelings of connection to friends and extended family and that contributes to a feelings of social support and snowballs into other domains of their life — marital quality, less stress, possibly feeling better about their marriage."
But he cautions the study noted a correlation, without proving causation. It's "really an initial look at it," he said, that will take more work. It could be that the blogging mothers are those who already feel more connected. He suspects, though, he said, that blogging itself increases whatever sense of connectedness the woman already has.
The study noted that the transition to parenthood is a long-term restructuring process that "begins at pregnancy and continues for some time after the birth of a child. Due to the substantial demands a newborn child poses to the family, the transition to parenthood is among the most stressful life events many individuals experience and can be associated with a host of psychological, physical and social problems for parents."
Benefits of social support
Strong social support "has been connected with better maternal health, relationship satisfaction, child outcomes and parent-child interactions.
"Whether new mothers create their own blogs or read established blogs, participation in blogging may provide such mothers both a distraction and a sense of connection with other mothers around the world, assuring them that they are not alone," the study said.
They didn't look at the content of the blogs, said Holmes. But reading the blogs of others and writing their own was helpful to the inexperienced moms, she said, providing "feelings of social support — I feel close to people in my life who care about me, people who can offer me support or resources if I need them."
They didn't study what new dads think about the amount of time moms spend online — or how much time the dads spend there, Holmes said.
It's important because when moms feel connected, their parenting stress is lowered and that in turn reduces the risk of depression, Holmes said. "We didn't study child outcomes, but we know from a lot of research that parenting stress and depression can lead to some pretty bad outcomes." For instance, if mom's depressed, she might be less responsive to or more withdrawn from baby. And when that happens a baby might not do as well in terms of cognitive, language and social development.
Advice to parents
The researchers found new moms through classroom announcements, email, local hospitals and birthing clinics. Those moms took an online survey. Of the 157 who completed it, 111 read blogs at least sometimes and 96 wrote their own blogs. Of that group, the reason most often given was to document personal experiences or share them with others and to stay in touch with family and friends.
Wrote the authors: "As blogging is a relatively simple task and small associations were found even for those who blogged only sometimes, doctors, clinicians and family life educators may wish to mention blogging as one way for new mothers to feel more connected to extended family and friends."
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