We know that having a supportive village is crucial for new parents. Having the support of people who love us and can relate to our journey is huge and can make a big difference in our mental health. Motherhood is beautiful, but sometimes mama needs to vent to someone who understands.
A new study shows that having a circle of friends to vent to and rely on isn't just good for mama, it's good for baby's brain, too.
Researchers found that when moms have a supportive network of friends, their toddlers do better on cognitive tests. On average, moms reported having three to four people in their social network they could rely on for help. When moms had fewer people to rely on, their toddlers had lower cognitive test scores. When moms had more people, the scores went up.
"Outside the family context, mothers with larger social networks may be able to draw on resources from those networks that alleviate some of the burdens associated with parenting," the study co-author Kaja LeWinn told Reuters.
According to LeWinn, the people in our social circles often provide emotional support, but also real-world support, like of babysitting, running an errand for us or tipping us off when the local day care has an open spot. "These resources may reduce parenting stress and improve maternal mental health, both of which are positively associated with child cognitive development," says LeWinn.
When moms are supported, babies do better. That's a fact.
But it's also a fact that new motherhood can be really lonely. It's especially hard if you don't live in the same city as your support network, but moving far from home is a reality for many millennial parents seeking employment opportunities.
If you don't have three to four people locally you can depend on, don't worry mama. You can find them.
Here are some ways to build up your social network if you are feeling lonely:
1. Join a group: This can be hard for the more introverted among us, but joining an in-person mom group or meet-up in your community is a great way to meet people who are in a similar season of life and who you'll likely have a lot in common with.
2. Reach out online: Local Facebook groups for moms can be a great place to start connecting with people in your area who could become your support system.
There are also several apps totally dedicated to making mom friends. Peanut has been described as "Tinder for mom friends." You swipe until you find a mama you think you could connect with, and maybe you'll make a match. HelloMamas is another app that can help you connect with local moms with similar interests.
3. Find your "thing:" Find a thing you do at the same time every week. Just being a consistent face at an activity in your community is going to help you connect with other people. You may not leave with a phone number on day one, but a few weeks in you might have a new connection you can start leaning on (and supporting).
Maybe it's baby swimming lessons. Maybe it's strollercizing. Maybe it's free story time at the library. Maybe you're just hitting up the playground at the same time every day. Just keep showing up long enough and you'll find some people who can show up for you.
[A version of this post was originally published February 6, 2019. It has been updated.]