Social websites boost theory it takes e-village to raise child

Monday, August 27, 2012


Ever since Meg McKivigan and her husband, Josh, adopted their baby, Eli, on the day he was born, her Facebook network of friends stepped in to help — established friends and ones she met online through the social networking site.

Can I have a glass of wine while breastfeeding? Does anyone have a travel crib I can borrow? Is this baby acting normal?

McKivigan, a first-time mom at 28, posts questions like those and gets answers quickly from other moms on Facebook.

She gets a lot of support and advice from members of the Facebook group Storkbites, made up of moms who took the Storkbites classes at Heritage Valley Sewickley Hospital and want to keep in touch. McKivigan, a Zelienople resident, says she has been on Facebook “way more than expected” since Eli’s arrival 9 months ago. “I would say I was so-so into Facebook before I became a parent,” she says. “It’s so helpful for any question you have. … Who else is up at 3 a.m. with a teething baby?

“I think I would feel so isolated out here, particularly out in the country, if it weren’t for social media,” McKivigan says.

While Hillary Clinton’s phrase “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” got a lot of flack in the ’90s, it captures an idea that is taking electronic form in the Internet age. According to a recent study, new moms often seek a virtual village to help them raise their child by spending more time on Facebook — connecting with other moms for support and advice, and posting pictures of their babies to share with friends and family.

The study — “New Parents’ Facebook Use at the Transition to Parenthood,” conducted by researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus, and published in the July issue of the Family Relations journal — found that about 44 percent of new, first-time mothers spend more time on Facebook in the first nine months after they have their babies, compared with their social-networking time before birth. New dads aren’t immune to Facebook’s lure: 73 percent of men in the study, which interviewed 150 Midwestern couples becoming first-time parents in 2008 to ’10, say that they, too, post more photos on Facebook after their baby enters the world.

Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, associate professor of human development and human science at Ohio State, says she was surprised by the findings. New moms are so overwhelmed and busy, she says, they have little time for other things like computers. However, with iPhones and the like, moms can even breastfeed while quickly checking into Facebook, she says. And moms love sharing photos of their babies: 98 percent said in the study that they had uploaded pictures onto Facebook, and the pictures usually get plenty of likes and positive comments.

“Women try to bring their social network closer,” says Schoppe-Sullivan, the study’s co-author. “They may also be using Facebook … even with family and friends who live close, they can draw them into their inner circle. It’s the fast way to update people and keep them interested in our lives when this big change is happening.

It’s not just Facebookers who are logging more hours when they become mothers. Many new moms like McKivigan are blogging, according to a recent study by Brandon T. McDaniel, a Penn State University graduate student in human development and family studies who is working with colleagues at Brigham Young University. The researchers surveyed 157 new moms with only one child younger than 18 months; of those moms, 76 percent read blogs, and 61 percent wrote their own blogs.

Indeed, Nancy Mramor, a media psychologist in McCandless, says that this generation of mothers is the“wired generation.”

“These women know how to use the Internet,” she says. “They don’t have to wait until the doctor comes in the office in the morning to get help.”

New moms might feel a sense of social isolation, especially if they stay at home with their babies,Mramor says. Many of these online connections are becoming real friendships, where the moms meet in person, she says.

“It becomes a social network that is good for the body, good for the mind and spirit,” she says.

On Facebook and other internet networking sites geared to mothers, women are posting questions and concerns and getting quick replies from experienced moms, which can help supplement advice from their doctors — but not replace it, Mramor says.

“You can go on Facebook and talk to somebody anytime, day or night. A new mom is finding the whole concept that it takes a village to raise a child is pretty much a concept of Facebook, Twitter and all the mommy blogs populating the web. … Technology has become the virtual village at this point.”

They also tend to spend an increased amount of time on Facebook and the Internet when their kids are babies and toddlers, but might cut back once their kids enter grade school, Mramor says.

Lisa Pindilli, 31, of Brighton, Beaver County, says she has found great friends through the Storkbites group — in the class she took and the Facebook connections that endure. She has become an enthusiastic Facebook poster of pictures of her son, Dominic, 13 months.

“I have relatives all over the place,” says Pindilli, who grew up in South Park and lives with her son and husband, Paul. “They can see a lot of pictures instead of just getting what you send them in the mail.”

With her fellow moms, Pindilli has found quick, helpful advice from them online.

“It’s nice to talk to some of the more experienced moms, who give you feedback and advice,” she says. “The doctors are probably happy, too, because we’re not calling as much. … To be honest, I’ve actually made some of the best friends I’ve made since I was little.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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