The Power of Postpartum Support Networks

Being a new parent can be a lonely, exhausting experience. The general reality is that many people have family and friend circles that are scattered across the country. And with social circles often revolving around the workplace, it’s no surprise many new parents report significant feelings of isolation after the birth of their baby (1). For those new parents who have family and friends available, many new parents don’t know how to ask for assistance. Insecurities and fears of judgement abound, and new parents often feel like they can’t, or shouldn’t have to ask for help.


At a recent Soutiens workshop we sought to change this paradigm. We asked expectant moms to brainstorm what a “fairy godmother” could do for them once their baby was born. What tasks would they want someone to do? What chores would they offload? Responses were insightful and varied greatly.


“Help with meals or go grocery shopping for me.”

“Keep me company.”

“Help me with breastfeeding.”

“Teach my partner how to help out.”

“Give me moral support.”

“Watch the baby so I can shower.”

“Triage visitors. Manage the door.”


While there’s no fairy godmother, we all have people we can count on to help us out in times of need. In this same workshop, we encouraged expectant parents to think about the people in their circles - their social, work, neighborhood, religious or civic circles. Who could they call on for help? What are the strengths of those in their circles?


After our brainstorming session, Soutiens workshop participants reported an 80% increase in knowledge in how to create a postpartum support network. Participants left the workshop with tasks to offload and people to reach out to, ready to build a their networks.


But why are postpartum support networks so important?


Research has shown having a postpartum support network is important in the emotional and physical wellbeing of new parents, (2), and that rates of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) are higher in families with little to no support (3). Even intuitively this makes sense. Having a baby is a time of transition, and being surrounded by helping hands makes that time easier.


In fact, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently updated clinical guidance for optimizing postpartum care. As part of that recommendation, ACOG recognized the importance of a postpartum care plan, writing “the woman and her obstetrician–gynecologist or other obstetric care provider should develop a postpartum care plan and care team, inclusive of family and friends who will provide social and material support in the months following birth...” (4)


[Note - We would argue that the creation of a postpartum care plan should also include input from dads/partners.]


Why does this matter to employers?


Companies want their employees to return to work after their parental leave ready to hit the ground running. But the reality is that parental leave isn’t a vacation. It’s not relaxing and restful. It’s quite often the opposite. Stress plus sleep deprivation plus hormone shifts following birth can take a toll on new parents. Both mothers and partners can suffer from postpartum mood disorders (PMADs) which can interfere with a parent’s ability to function and care for themselves and their child. Parents who struggle with PMADs are at a higher risk of increased work absenteeism (5).


But if the family is supported during this time, if they have help when they need it, they likely have lower stress levels and higher satisfaction with the baby-bonding experience. This is an important factor in being able to return to work in a positive mental and emotional state.


Parents who receive education, support and have a sense of community are more resilient, engaged, and are better able to care for their child. And we believe these are skills that can carry over into the workplace, helping new parent employees become more tuned in, connected and better equipped to be successful, productive team members.


Perhaps then, in the case of company-sponsored education and support for new parent employees, the employer is the fairy godmother after all.



References:

Humenick, S. S. (2003). Overcoming isolation of the new mother. J Perinat Educ, 12(4), iv-v.

Negron, R., Martin, A., Almog, M., Balbierz, A., & Howell, E. A. (2013). Social support during the postpartum period: mothers' views on needs, expectations, and mobilization of support. Matern Child Health J, 17(4), 616-623.

Schwab-Reese, L. M., Schafer, E. J., & Ashida, S. (2017). Associations of social support and stress with postpartum maternal mental health symptoms: Main effects, moderation, and mediation. Women Health, 57(6), 723-740.

ACOG Committee Opinion No. 736 Summary: Optimizing Postpartum Care. (2018). Obstet Gynecol, 131(5), 949-951.

Ammerman, R. T., Chen, J., Mallow, P. J., Rizzo, J. A., Folger, A. T., & Van Ginkel, J. B. (2016). Annual direct health care expenditures and employee absenteeism costs in high-risk, low-income mothers with major depression. J Affect Disord, 190, 386-394.


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