Some changes aren't surprising, like the sleepless nights and the fact that it’s suddenly so much harder to find time to do basic things like shower and eat. But there’s one aspect that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: loneliness. “I see this a lot,” says Tamar Gur, MD, PhD, a women's health expert and reproductive psychiatrist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. There aren’t a lot of hard numbers on how many new moms struggle with feelings of loneliness, but a survey conducted by the U.K.’s Channel Mum found that 9 out of 10 feel lonely after having kids.
A lot of it has to do with the way the postpartum period is structured in our society, says Catherine Birndorf, MD, founder of the Motherhood Center in New York City and co-author of the forthcoming book What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions, From Pregnancy to Motherhood with reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks, MD. Women are usually encouraged to keep babies home to protect them from germs, and that can be isolating, Dr. Birndorf says. “You may be stuck at home, not feeling like yourself, while the world keeps going on." That world may include your friends whom, unlike during other transitional life phases like adolescence, aren't going through what you are. In fact, there's a good chance you haven't established a community of women going through matrescence with you, which Dr. Sacks says is a "word to describe the period of time where a woman has a baby.” In effect, this feeling of going at it alone can make you want to cry out "you just don't understand!" to all the people who seemingly don't.
“Loneliness is likely under-reported based on the fact that guilt shrouds women who feel less than ecstatic about motherhood.” —Jessica Zucker, PhD
Making matters more pervasive is that about one in seven new moms struggle with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, says Jessica Zucker, PhD, a psychologist specializing in women's reproductive and maternal mental health. “Loneliness is likely under-reported based on the fact that guilt shrouds women who feel less than ecstatic about motherhood,” she adds.
One great way to minimize the loneliness? A sense of community, which a slew of apps and websites aim to cultivate for new moms, who are often awake when the world is sleeping, full of questions their childless friends may not be able to answer. Check out some of the options below.
From iPhone to IRL, here are ways to ease the loneliness that often accompanies new motherhood.
One app called Peanut connects users with other moms in geographic proximity. After creating a profile, users can crowdsource questions and join general discussions with other moms. You can also view their profiles and reach out to them individually. The Social.mom app, which connects users with moms who live close by, uses a similar concept, and also encourages moms to schedule IRL meet-ups. Even something as simple as going for a stroller walk to get out together when other friends might not be available or interested can prove helpful for busting loneliness. Basically, think of these options as Tinder for moms.
Beyond the apps, CafeMom offers several online groups that allow users to interact with other new moms, get advice, or just chat. Circle of Moms also hosts online groups, including targeted ones broken down into categories for specific subject-matter discussion, like "working moms," "stay-at-home moms," and "toddler moms."
Channel Mum even started a social media campaign called “You are not alone,” through which moms can share their stories and interact with others who are in similar situations.
“It doesn’t mean you’ll meet your new best friend there, but you’ll meet other moms and have a sense of belonging.” —Tamar Gur, MD, PhD
And, of course, there are always the good old-fashioned ways to get out there. Dr. Gur recommends contacting the local library to see if any mom groups meet there. “It doesn’t mean you’ll meet your new best friend there, but you’ll meet other moms and have a sense of belonging,” she adds. Local toy stores, bookstores, and places of worship may also host similar groups, she says.
While technology may be adding new options for new moms to socialize and build a community during the times they feel most alone, it's possible none of them will ease a specific case of loneliness. If find this to be the ongoing case, it may be time to seek professional help. “Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are fully treatable, but they are also the most common complication of pregnancy,” Dr. Zucker says. “Addressing uneasy feelings can be the very antidote to drowning in them.”
Celebs are helping to normalize the discussion about the postpartum experience. Here's what Adele has to say about postpartum depression, and here's Blake Lively's take on getting back into fitness after having a baby.
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