Social Support During Pregnancy: Why It’s Critical & 10 Ways To Get It
How many people are supporting you through your pregnancy?
According to research, the answer to that question can determine your mental health and the health of you and your baby.
In this post, we outline why social support during pregnancy is critical. If you feel alone, don’t worry; we’ll list 10 ways you can grow your pregnancy support network.
Why Support is Important During Pregnancy
To put it simply, support during pregnancy lowers your risk of mental health issues. Having better mental health may lower your risk of stress-related conditions and pregnancy complications.
One of the major reasons why having social support during pregnancy is so critical is because it lowers stress levels.
Everyone experiences some level of stress, but chronic stress can cause a variety of problems.
In general, short-term stress can contribute to:
- Digestive issues
- Sleeping troubles
Long-term stress can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- Mental health issues
- Weight problems
- Muscle tension
In addition to the problems listed above, research suggests that pregnant women may be more at risk for certain problems if they have chronic stress.
Research on stress and pregnancy has found that:
- A fetus may become more susceptible to childhood and adult obesity and dysregulated glycemic control if the pregnant mother had severe stress, according to a 2013 study.
- Elevated stress levels can affect a pregnant woman’s immune system and activate an inflammatory response.
- There’s a link between high levels of pregnancy-related anxiety and preterm birth, according to a 2002 study.
- More research needs to be done, but some studies have linked stress to miscarriage and fertility issues.
- Read our full post on How Stress Affects Pregnancy.
Research has shown that one way to combat pregnancy stress is to have social support. A 2014 study conducted in Iran found that mothers with high-stress levels had significantly less social support than those with low stress. Another 2004 study showed that women who reported low social support had more stress symptoms.
Helps Prevent Pregnancy Depression
Intuitively, it makes sense that pregnant women who don’t have many people to turn to can become depressed. Feeling alone while going through a big life change can be challenging.
Research has also proven this. A 2007 study found that pregnant women who have lower support have more depressive symptoms and a reduced quality of life.
Protection Against Postpartum Depression
Having a good social network may also protect you from getting depressed after labor (postpartum depression).
A 2015 study suggested that having many supportive people during pregnancy can help prevent postpartum depression. This was especially true for women who were already depressed during pregnancy. The authors concluded that it can be an important preventative intervention.
Another 2013 study found that pregnant women with strong family support appear to be protected against spikes in a certain stress hormone. This makes them less likely to experience depression after labor.
Read 8 Ways to Prevent Postpartum Depression.
Improves Pregnancy Outcomes
As we’ve discussed, having strong support can improve your mental health, which may be the reason why women who are connected have better pregnancy outcomes.
One 1993 study found that women who received more prenatal support had better labors and delivered babies who appeared healthier. In addition, women with more social network resources had babies with higher birth weights.
10 Ways to Get Support During Pregnancy
Now that you understand why having support is so important during pregnancy, let’s jump into ways you can grow your pregnancy network.
Our first tip for getting support during pregnancy is to strengthen the connections you already have. Once the symptoms start to kick in, you may have less energy to go out and see people. However, make an effort to keep in contact with all your friends.
If you’re feeling like more of a homebody, invite them over for tea, a movie or a meal. Checking in with them through text or social media is also a good idea. Try to attend family gatherings, and if you have a good relationship with your family, attempt to see them more over the course of your pregnancy.
Connect with Peers Who are Mothers
As you go through your pregnancy, you may find it helpful to start interacting with women who have already gone through it. Other mothers can share their experiences, relate and may be able to provide guidance through your journey.
Consider hanging out more with the mothers in your circle of friends and family. If you don’t know a lot of mothers currently, make an effort to reach out to peers, such as coworkers or friends of friends who have kids.
Attending childbirth classes can help in two major ways. It can decrease stress by making you feel more prepared, and it can give you the opportunity to meet other expecting mothers. Some classes last a full day, while others are ongoing for several weeks.
- Check your local government website to see if your area offers any free classes
- Check your local hospital’s website or call to see if they offer classes
- Google “childbirth classes in [YOUR CITY]”
- Check for classes in your area on Meetup.com
- Check for childbirth classes on Eventbrite.com
Similar to labor classes, when you attend a support group, you’ll meet women who are going through what you are. Groups are often led by a therapist, so there’s more of a focus on mental health. Topics vary but may include relationships, body image, coping strategies, planning for the baby, etc.
You can find support groups that meet in-person in your area by:
- Googling “pregnancy support groups in [YOUR CITY]”
- Searching for pregnancy and prenatal support groups by entering your location on PsychologyToday.com
- Searching for support groups in your city on Meetup.com
Online Support Groups
There are several options when it comes to being a part of an online community for pregnant women. You may consider trying out a few to see which group of people you like best. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Pregnancy forums— such as those on TheBump.com, WhatToExpect.com and BabyCenter.com
- Apps focused on building pregnancy communities— such as Totally Pregnant, The Bump Pregnancy App and Glow Nurture.
Free One-on-One Support
Sometimes you may not want to share your feelings or pregnancy questions with a group or with someone you know. Luckily, there are many free resources where you can talk to someone one-on-one. Some can help you through emotional issues while others are staffed by professionals who can answer your health and pregnancy-related questions. These include:
- Text chat lines
- Texting services
Read our post on FREE Pregnancy Help: Hotlines, Chats, Text & More.
Consider a Midwife or Doula
Having a midwife or doula can feel more personal than check-ups with your family doctor. They can provide emotional support, answer health-related questions and prepare you for labor.
For more information on finding the right one for you, read our guide on 7 Tips for Finding a Midwife or Doula.
Social Media Support
Start following people, pages and groups on social media that can relate to what you’re going through. Keep in mind that you’ll want to follow those who portray a realistic view of pregnancy. Seeing celebrities who pretend to have the perfect pregnancy probably won’t have the same effect.
- Facebook groups for pregnant women— such as groups for women delivering in the same month (search for your due date on Facebook).
- Pregnancy Facebook pages— such as Pregnancy Corner, Pregnancy Pages and Pregnant Life.
- Blogs— check out the Top 9 Pregnancy Blogs.
- Instagram— Follow other pregnant women. You can find them by using #pregnancy, #preggo, #pregnantbelly, etc.
Ask for Help
It may sound obvious, but many pregnant women try to do it all. Not everyone will know what you need, so simply asking for help may make you feel more supported. For example, ask your partner to help out more with cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, or whatever other chore you need. Or seek emotional support by telling a friend how you feel. You can open the conversation by saying something like, “these pregnancy hormones have been making me feel really off/different/sad.”
If you have a history of mental health issues or already feel anxious or depressed, you should consider seeing a psychotherapist. You can ask your family doctor for a referral or you can search for one in your area. Some therapists specialize in pregnancy and parenting, which can be a good option. If you’re experiencing excessive stress due to an event in your life, such as marital problems or a family death, you may consider related help such as seeing a relationship or grief councilor.
What type of social support do you have through your pregnancy journey? Comment below. If you have any pregnant friends, share this post to help them, too.
P.S. Have you heard of fetal dopplers? They’re handheld devices that you can use to hear your baby’s heartbeat while she’s still in the womb. Many expecting mothers find it to be an anxiety-relieving and rewarding experience. Check out our fetal heartbeat monitors here.