To mark Women's Health Week, we're releasing a two-part analysis of the current state of maternal health. Stay tuned for Part II on Thursday.
The landscape of pregnancy, childbirth and raising kids is very different from what it has been in the past. Women are increasingly having babies later in life — the average age of first-time mothers in America is now up from 21 to 26. They are balancing corporate jobs with motherhood. They are hybrid parenting, single parenting, using IVF, adopting — and as their experiences of family life and community have evolved from what their own mother knew and grew up with, what women are looking for from their maternity care has changed as well.
Add to this the present crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, and maternal health in 2021 looks a lot different from your mother’s.
A difference in experience.
Although the numbers vary by religious and cultural differences, the average family size in the U.S. has been declining across the board since the Baby Boom era, and while trends are starting to change, it’s still much more common for women at the end of their childbearing years to have had one or two kids than three or more. That means that many new moms are coming from single or two-child families, so they don’t necessarily have the experience of seeing their own mother raise a baby.
At a recent baby shower, the mom-to-be laughingly recounted that her husband, an only child, thought a baby would only need three diapers a day — one after each meal. One of seven children herself, she quickly and easily cleared up his confusion. But the reality is that she is the anomaly — more often than not, new parents share the experience of the husband in this story.
As a result, the newest generation of mothers are typically looking for more comprehensive education — more than they can expect to receive in the space of a short 15 minute prenatal appointment, where education takes a backseat to more pressing questions of health and wellness of baby and mom. They’re looking to technology to fill in the gaps in their experience.
"[I like] the easy access to important information at specific stages of my pregnancy. It's more comprehensive than reading a bunch of books that might not have reputable information. I know the information here is correct and it comes out every week to add to my knowledge of what is happening. I find it comforting and helpful all at the same time."
They’re also looking to tech to help establish community, to replace the lack of traditional support systems — especially in a time of pandemic, when access to what physical community they have is cut off.
A difference in resources.
Many Millennials and Gen Z-ers — the rising generation of new parents — are used to turning to the internet for answers and support. So it’s no surprise that the majority of new moms rely on apps to navigate their pregnancy where their mothers might have relied on personal experience.
But this reliance on apps and the internet often causes more harm than good if the content is not coming from a clinician. The proliferation of information on the internet can cause more anxiety and stress than security, and often results in the very thing that apps are meant to avoid — an over-reliance on clinicians as mothers call to clarify conflicting information they’re getting off the internet.
"Given the evolving situation, there is a lot of misinformation out there. It was helpful to get a consolidated position from my medical group: here is what to do and here is the actual risk. i could have gone to the CDC website and searched, but it felt better to get something from the medical team that I'm already getting care from."
The new generation of moms look for solutions that are convenient and readily accessible, yes, but they’re also looking for the rigor and trustworthiness of provider-approved resources, especially in a time of so much uncertainty and conflicting information.