Becoming a mother in the age of the internet has its perks—and downsides. No matter what time of day or night we know we can find answers to our questions online (or fall down a rabbit hole of conflicting advice, depending on what the topic is). Online moms groups on Facebook and Reddit can provide a sense of community and comfort. And Google is always there for us, but so is someone else: Our moms.
New research suggests that even with all the high tech resources available, most pregnant women still seek advice and emotional support from their own mom, and rank her guidance as being more meaningful than other recommendations.
The new study, published in the journal Reproduction, Health, and Medicine, saw researchers at the University of Cincinnati follow pregnant women for months, conducting in-depth interviews with the women as well as their moms. Women who do not have their mother in their life often still have someone supporting them similarly. This particular study examined the daughter-mother bond, but previous research suggests sisters and aunts are also powerful support people for pregnant women.
"No one can replace your mum but you have to work with what you can work with—my wider family, my sister and close girlfriends are amazing," researcher Edith Cowan of the University in Western Australia told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year.
Cowan's research looked at so-called “motherless mothers" and the support people whose guidance they value and this new research out of Cincinnati examined how new mothers bonds with their own mothers.
According to Danielle Bessett, UC associate professor of sociology, many books and recommendations for new moms suggest following expert advice and ignoring our anecdotal advice. While other studies do suggest that some grandparents' old-school ways can put babies at risk, Bassett cautions against discounting how much emotional support and advice grandparents can provide.
She says that when pregnancy resources and medical providers suggest new moms ignore their own moms it can be damaging and increase stress levels for the pregnant person. While some grandparents may offer advice that doesn't adhere to current recommendations (like putting a baby to sleep on their stomach or adding cereal to a baby's bottle—both of which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against) they are also an invaluable source of support for some pregnant women.
It's okay to take advice from your mom, to lean on her and get support. According to Basset, most moms aren't tossing grandma aside because she's not up-to-date on pregnancy and baby care. Instead, they're helping her catch up on new recommendations, something many grandparents are happy to do. According to Basset, many moms these days bring their own mom into the fold to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to pregnancy, literally.
"They tended to read self-help books along with their mothers who also enjoyed a vicarious engagement with science that they didn't have when they were pregnant decades ago," Basset explains, adding that medical providers should "actually listen and really hear their patients, no matter how much they may rely on their mothers."
Not everyone wants to rely on their mother or take their advice. For some women, contact with their own mother isn't welcome during pregnancy, and while many people want their mothers' advice and guidance during this time those who have had traumatic experiences in their family of origin may not. And that's okay too.
As developmental psychologist Dr. Julaine Brent writes for CBC Parents, "We are free to choose behaviors that will support our child's emotional well-being rather than repeating old patterns."
For some pregnant people, their mom's advice is welcome and needed. For others, their mom may not be emotionally or physically able to support them during this time. If you have lost your mother through estrangement or death, you still do not have to do this alone. Aunts, mothers-in-law, sisters, grandmothers and friends are the ones some pregnant women turn to.
Whatever support looks like in a mother's life it should be respected. Our moms and our aunties may not be experts on the latest medical and child-rearing recommendations, but they are in our corner and that matters even more.