As a new mom, Lauren was nervous to fly cross country alone with her baby. A friend in her Program for Early Parent Support, or PEPS, group suggested she seek advice on Madrona Moms, their neighborhood email group. “I was shocked at the number of thoughtful, helpful responses that I received,” she said. “People not only gave advice, but offered to let me borrow their lightweight car seats.”
Parents now have access to local and national online support networks that offer robust ways to connect, commiserate, receive information and answer questions at all hours of the day and night. Health websites, neighborhood email groups, bulletin boards and blogs are popular online destinations for parents in search of information. As Monica Stephenson, a Seattle mother of two, says: “Every kid’s different, and you never know where you might find that critical nugget of information that you need.”
Health research for parents
Many local parents take to the Web to supplement information from their pediatricians — checking sites that can answer health and behavior questions.
“I trust mothers’ opinions more than I do my doctor sometimes,” said Kim Anderson, a Seattle mother of two. This instinct proved beneficial a month after her second child was born when Kim suffered a terrible cold. Her doctor prescribed codeine and assured her that it was safe to take it while nursing. But the idea of taking codeine while breastfeeding made Kim uncomfortable, so she researched the topic on breastfeeding discussion boards and blogs. Through her reading, she learned that codeine can get into breast milk. She opted not to take the medicine. She also learned that since Sudafed dries up all mucus, it also dries up milk ducts, and that Tylenol Cold is a much better choice — something that her doctor never mentioned.
Similarly, Jill, a Seattle mom, grew concerned as her child’s diaper rash erupted with open sores after she applied the hydrocortisone cream her doctor had recommended. As she anxiously waited for her doctor’s after-hour service to return her call, she posted her concern and her son’s symptoms on her neighborhood email group. “I had 10 responses before my doctor called me back, including a link to Seattle Children’s Hospital, which gave great advice for when to call and doctor and how to treat at home,” says Jill.
Many pediatricians’ offices are going online as well, allowing patients to ask questions and consult doctors after hours. For example, all of the doctors at Swedish Physicians Queen Anne allow patients to contact them 24/7 via secure messaging — a more secure alternative to email that meets federal privacy requirements. Pediatrician David Buchholz explained that his office wanted to provide patients with alternative methods to contact the office, especially during times of high phone volumes. The service has been well received, with more than 1,000 patients currently using it to ask questions, consult a doctor via web visits, get lab results and request appointments.
Neighborhood email parent groups
Many Seattle-area neighborhoods have email groups that help parents connect. Postings include everything from child health and behavior questions to coordinating playgroups, announcing neighborhood activities, swapping info about child care and schools as well as useful articles and even offering to buy or sell baby-related products. But often these communities go beyond parenting issues, with members sharing resources about finding a good housecleaner, handyman or accountant to advice on child-friendly hotels and travel tips.
Postings appear in email form (either individual or compiled) to the whole group and group members can answer directly. Like bulletin boards, the email archives contain a wealth of compiled lists on almost every topic. Seattle mom Lisa Feldman routinely checks the archives for help with her house remodel. “We found the best plumber and electrician through Madrona Moms. It’s a great resource for everything,” Lisa says.
Bulletin boards, like those offered at sites such as iVillage and Parent Center, offer information on every topic imaginable. Some parents also start their own message boards based on a child’s age or developmental issue. Anna joined an iVillage message board when she was pregnant, and it proved a wonderful resource for day-to-day advice well after her son was born. “I never once called the doctor in the early days with this message board.”
Katherine, the mother of a 1-year-old, also loves having access to “hundreds of women who can give you advice, tips or just a shoulder to cry on when you’re having one of those days,” she says. “It’s nice to know you’re not alone when your kid cries incessantly for no reason at 3 a.m., or that a certain brand of sippy cup leaks for everyone.”
Those in search of more anonymous information can look in on bulletin boards and read other parents’ posts on similar topics. “Sometimes anonymity can be a good thing,” says Monica, who dubs herself a “lurker” — someone who reads others’ postings on sites, but doesn’t post herself. “It’s helpful to know you are not alone in issue or stage, but you may not want to approach another real-world friend about it,” she says.
Parents also look to message boards for information on baby gear. Babycenter has a section that compares different products, including a car seat board hosted by certified technicians. “The FAQs are super helpful,” says Monica. “It’s a great concentration of resources that is easily accessible. For example, you can plug in your child’s age, weight, height and your car model and get four to five responses from experts on the best car seat for you.”
For laughs, information and a sense of connection to other parents who can relate to what they’re going through, many parents regularly read blogs. “I find my best information on discussion boards or blogs,” according to Katherine, who found great ideas for her daughter’s Elmo-themed birthday party on another mother’s blog about her daughter’s recent Elmo party. Checking a favorite blog — often little more than a daily musing on parenthood — can be a relaxing night-time ritual for tired or stressed moms and dads who want to know that they’re not alone as they navigate the tricky waters of parenthood.
Jodi Sternoff Cohen is a Seattle-based writer and marketing consultant. She is the mother of two children, ages 6 and 8.
Annie Fanning updated this article in 2013. She thinks y'all should have more babies, because the world needs more smart people like you.
Community of Mindful Parents
Urban Baby Daily
Neighborhood email groups
Capitol Hill Moms
Columbia City Parents
Montlake Family Co-op
Mount Baker Parents Group
Northeast Seattle Moms
Queen Anne Moms
Seward Park Parents
West Seattle Moms
Daring Young Mom — www.daringyoungmom.com
Honest Toddler — blog.honest.com/lol-with-honesttoddler
Offsprung — www.offsprung.com — an "irreverent, inclusive, alternative parenting community" of bloggers
Paranoid Stay-at-home Mom — paranoidstayathomemom.blogspot.com — lots of practical info and emotional insight
Seattle Education — seattleeducation2010.wordpress.com — a public school advocacy blog "for the news and views you might have missed."
Single Dad Laughing — www.danoah.com