By Dr Lauren Rockliffe
Why is social connection important in pregnancy?
Pregnancy is an exciting time for many parents, but it can also be a period of uncertainty and anxiety. From the physical changes to the emotional rollercoaster of hormones, pregnancy can bring up many unexpected challenges.
Having a supportive social network during this time is essential for maintaining your wellbeing, as it can help to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, improve physical health, and reduce the risk of pregnancy and birth complications. Having support around you can also help to increase your motivation and drive to make healthy lifestyle changes.
Feeling well supported during pregnancy can offer a sense of connection and belonging, as well as emotional comfort and reassurance, which can help you manage any worries or concerns that may arise.
Having people around you who have been through the same experience can also be helpful when trying to adjust to your changing body, as they can offer advice on how to deal with the physical and emotional changes.
What does social support in pregnancy look like?
Social support is likely to look different for different people. For some, feeling supported might mean having regular phone calls with a loved one, whilst for others it might mean receiving more practical support such as help with childcare, or having someone prepare a meal for you when you’re low on energy.
Support also comes from different people. It might come from family, friends, or other mums-to-be, but it might also be from healthcare providers such as midwives, doctors, or doulas, or from antenatal support groups.
There are also likely to be cultural differences in the way support is offered from friends and family, or the type of support you might feel that you need.
Lack of social connection
Unfortunately, a lot of women and birthing people feel that they lack the support they need during their pregnancy. Being the only one who is pregnant in your friendship circle, or not knowing many other new parents, can leave you feeling isolated or like there’s no one to talk to who really understands what you’re going through.
Not having the support of your family or being without a supportive partner can also increase feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
Typically, women from lower-income households feel they receive less social support, as do women from some ethnic minority backgrounds.
Pregnancy is such a unique experience, and for this reason it can feel especially important to have people to connect with, and to share that experience with, in a meaningful way.
If this is something you feel you can relate to, then read on for some tips
If you currently feel like you could do with a little extra support, there are lots of different things you can do to try to meet new people and increase how connected you feel to those around you. In doing so, you can start to build a network of people who can offer you the support and reassurance you need throughout your pregnancy journey, making it a healthier and happier experience.
This one might seem obvious, but we often fail to tell others what it is that we need from them. Our family and friends don’t always know when we’re struggling and might wrongly assume we’ll let them know if we need them, or that we’d prefer to not be bothered by them.
If you feel you’re struggling, pick up the phone or drop them a text and let them know that you need a bit of support, even if all that looks like is getting together for a cup of tea and a chat.
Remember that you don’t need to try and do it all on your own. Asking for help from your loved ones is an important way to look after yourself.
Join antenatal groups
A really good way to meet other pregnant women and people is by joining pregnancy classes and groups. There are lots of free pregnancy support groups available, some of which are run in-person and others online.
Depending on the sort of support you’re after, some of these focus on providing practical and emotional support throughout your pregnancy journey, whilst others focus more on creating social spaces for mums-to-be.
There are also pregnancy fitness classes that are run at local leisure centres and private studios, which can also be a great way to meet and connect with others.
Try something new
Another way to meet new people is by doing more of what you enjoy. Whether that’s joining an art or language class, volunteering your time for a good cause, or joining a book club.
Connecting with others who have similar interests is a sure-fire way to meet people you know you’ll have something in common with. Whilst these obviously aren’t pregnancy-focused activities, you never know who you might meet or the kind of support they might be able to offer you.
Connect with others online
If you’d rather connect with others from the comfort of your own home, there are a huge number of websites for mums-to-be which offer expert advice, real-life stories, and forums where you can chat about various pregnancy topics. These websites provide a great platform for you to connect with others and seek advice and support.
However, it’s important to be cautious when engaging with people online to make sure you don’t fall foul of scare stories or fake news.
Make new friends in your local area
If you’re keen to meet people on a one-to-one basis, there are a number of great apps available that can connect you with other mums-to-be or new parents in your local area. Peanut is a good example of one of these types of apps. Similar to other parenting websites, these apps offer expert advice and chat forums, but also allow you to link up with other users nearby, based on your location, so you can arrange to get together in-person for a coffee or fun activity.
Talk to your maternity team
If you’re really struggling to feel connected and could do with additional support, reach out to someone from your maternity team, such as your GP or your midwife. They’re there to support you throughout your pregnancy journey, so lean on them if you need to, share your concerns, and allow them to provide you with the reassurance and guidance that you need.
Seek out one-to-one support
If you’re able to afford it, you might want to consider working with a doula during your pregnancy. Doulas are independent practitioners who work with women and birthing people on a one-to-one basis, offering practical and emotional support, advice, and advocacy throughout the entire pregnancy journey. Having a doula on hand to answer any questions you have and to guide you through your pregnancy can be hugely reassuring and a valuable source of support. Doula’s typically work privately, although some may also volunteer or be employed within the NHS.
If you want to find out more about Dr Lauren Rockliffe and what she does, visit her website at www.bloomwellpregnancy.co.uk or follow her on Instagram.