How Online Pregnancy Forums Are Filling an Important Gap for Women

More and more women are turning to their smartphones and computers during pregnancy.More and more women are turning to their smartphones and computers during pregnancy.

Most women have moments during their pregnancies that stay imprinted in their brain for a lifetime. Mine came approximately three months into my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy had sadly ended in an unexpected miscarriage. In my second pregnancy, when I noticed some light bleeding around 10 weeks, panic immediately set in. “Could this be happening again?” I wondered.

I immediately called my obstetrician’s office and explained my situation. The office was closing shortly and I was told that they could fit me in the following morning. It seemed incredulous to me to have to wait 16 hours to find out the fate of my baby. However, as it was explained to me, there was little that could be done regardless.

So, I did what most intelligent, concerned mothers would do: I turned to the internet. My google search of “Does bleeding always mean a miscarriage?” resulted in an endless number of websites, articles, and much to my surprise, pregnancy discussion forums. What I found was that while my doctor’s office might not be able to offer the answers that I was seeking at that moment, an entire tribe of women would rally around me, providing advice, sharing experiences, and more importantly, lending a helpful ear.

After reading through several online posts by other women, I decided to submit my question online. Although sharing such a private moment with absolute strangers seemed absurd, the anonymity of the internet made it a relatively easy decision. I shared a brief synopsis of my current situation and waited for the responses to come in.

Within moments, I began hearing from other women who had similar experiences, some with positive outcomes and others with stories of loss. While the responses offered no firm answer as to whether or not I was about to lose my baby, they did provide what I really sought at that moment: to be surrounded by understanding women who knew how damn scary it is to be facing a pregnancy loss.

It dawned on me at that moment that the medical system lacked what most women are seeking. As a Registered Nurse myself, this realization hit hard. Certainly, I wanted a medical professional to listen for a fetal heartbeat and reassure me that all was well with my baby. However, I knew that no one knew that answer any better than I myself did. What I needed from my provider, which to no fault of their own I did not receive, was comfort.

I’m happy to report that my appointment the next morning revealed a baby that was doing well. I continued to experience intermittent, light spotting throughout the rest of my pregnancy. While undoubtedly unnerving, I was reassured that for some women this is normal. I went on to deliver a healthy baby boy months later.

Related: How a Tribe of Internet Friends Helped Me Survive After My Son Died

While I continued regular visits with my doctor as recommended throughout my pregnancy, I had now discovered a world of support and medical advice available at any moment right at my fingertips. The long list of questions that I saved for my monthly doctor’s suddenly dissipated when I learned that all of the answers I needed were a mere mouse-click away. Suddenly, my doctor became less of an expert whom I depended on for answers, and I grew into more of a knowledgeable consumer.

I learned, quite early on, that there is enormous value having access to the experience of others.

I also learned that I was not alone in my experience. Studies show that nearly 75% of pregnant women turn to the internet for medical advice. Further, the vast majority of women who search the web during pregnancy report that the information they find is useful. While women turn to digital media for a variety of reasons, many point to the immediate access to information that is not readily available from their healthcare providers.

The truth of the matter is that a generational shift has occurred within developed nations. As more and more women have access to technology, they are turning to their smartphones and the internet to fill the ever-increasing gap between their healthcare provider and themselves. Many women feel that the current prenatal care structure does not meet their needs, with too few visits early on and too little time with their doctor.

Social media outlets such as Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube also offer a variety of ways to stay informed during pregnancy, with some women utilizing this media to watch videos of birth or to educate themselves on information not shared by their healthcare provider.

Popular “due date clubs” allow soon-to-be mothers to connect with other women who are pregnant at the same time. In a recent article on Scary Mommy, one woman shares her experience of flying across the country to attend the 10th birthday of a premature child whose mom she met online while pregnant a decade earlier.

While the online world is an oasis of information for pregnant moms, it goes without saying that there are dangers inherent in utilizing the internet as a primary source of medical information. First and foremost, not everything that you read online is true. New mothers must judiciously weed through information for the truth.

Related: Pregnancy After a Miscarriage: How to Let Go of the Fears

A recent survey of 300 new moms who had used the google search engine to address pregnancy concerns found that nearly 40% experienced worry or anxiety about what they had discovered online.

As reliance on technology continues to grow, it might make sense for maternity care providers to shift their focus away from impersonal and infrequent visits, placing more attention on how to integrate technology with their current practice. The weaving of professional advice with more immediate and personalized access seems to be what the current generation of pregnant women are seeking.

Photo credit: Joana Lopes/Shutterstock

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