Is seeking online-based support helpful?

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By Rosemary Rukavina

Many parents actively use the internet to find information, seek advice from professionals, and receive support around infant care issues with peers. This online support can enhance your knowledge and positive attitudes related to various topics about infant care. As well, internet-based support can create a virtual sense of community with peers, which can help close the isolation gap that typically occurs postpartum.

Most research has found that internet-based support is helpful to both mothers and fathers adapting to parenthood. However, there are some safety measures that may be important to consider while engaging in this type of support. To begin with, the trustworthiness of the source of information is an important area to consider. On any given topic (like breastfeeding) the opinions can be vastly different from one another. It can be quite hard to tell if the opinions given by an anonymous user are actually valid and safe to consider. Try seeking knowledge from various sources, look for pages that are regulated (like www.postpartumprogress.com) and when in doubt, it’s always best to seek advice from your health care professional.

Also keep in mind that not all information shared on the internet is credible or going to be helpful to you. Some information can actually be harmful or shaming. If you find that you have a negative reaction to something you experienced online, talking to someone can be a helpful and good way to release some of the feelings and emotions you may be holding on to.

Online-only moderated support groups are also becoming increasingly more available, in environments such as closed Facebook groups or a dedicated online space. In these spaces, members directly interact with each other to share struggles and offer support.  When joining an online support group, it is important to consider if the group is moderated by volunteer peers or trained professionals.  Either approach can be appropriate and useful, but each also has disadvantages. Online-only support groups moderated by volunteer peers can be warm, empathetic and effective sources of support, but can also be less safe as the moderators may be less present and there may be less ability to control membership.  Online-only support groups moderated by trained facilitators can also be effective sources of support, but are much less common and may include large numbers of participants.  In addition, the facilitators may be trained in online support group management, but not have any particular experience with postpartum or parenthood.  As in many situations, a personal recommendation about a particular group from someone you trust can be very helpful in finding the right fit.

In all cases, it is important to use your own judgment when interacting in an online support group.  Different groups have different levels of moderation, from very tight (for example, all posts are approved before appearing) to non-existent.  It may be a good idea, if you choose to join a group, to look through previous posts and see if the tone and nature of the group’s interactions are helpful and supportive before sharing your own situation with members.  You may have to join and observe several groups before you find one that is right for you.  Many mothers have found an online-only support group to be particularly helpful when they begin to recover from PPD/A, and have gained coping skills through professional support such as counsellors and in-person support groups, but still need a reasonably safe place to share their daily struggles and practice their new skills with other parents who understand.

With the help of funding provided by Vancouver Coastal Health, Pacific Post Partum Support Society will be piloting an online-only support group in the Spring that hopes to bring our model of peer-support, provided in small groups and moderated by trained Facilitators, to the online environment for mothers who are experiencing PPD/A. We are excited to take the first steps into this new arena.  Stay tuned to this blog for more updates as the pilot progresses!

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