Only a generation ago, a new mum typically went to hospital to give birth, spent two weeks ‘lying in’ and was then sent home to other mums, aunts and sisters waiting in the wings with dinners ready and arms eager to soothe bub so his mummy could take much-needed rests. Settled in the neighbourhood as homemakers, female relatives often continued to play a supporting role, available reliably and frequently when an extra set of hands or babysitting duties were required.

These days, though, it’s not uncommon for couples to have to move to find a home, sometimes suburbs or states away from family support systems. This can leave the new family adrift at a time when they need help most, both practically and emotionally.

Old friends who are willing and available or new friends made along the way can become great pillars of support when family isn’t always around. Here’s how to build your social network…

Get your group on
To build a network of supportive friends early on, enrol in antenatal classes. Not only will these help get you through birth and the early days of parenthood, they provide a ready-made gathering of people with compatible interests. Baby health centre groups and mothers’ groups are great resources to tap into after bub is born, too. Finding your experiences are normal is validating and meeting regularly can help cure pangs of loneliness.

Try joining a playgroup and don’t forget to check out local parks or indoor play centres, which are great places to meet new friends. Check your local paper for other opportunities from other groups to events and meetings. You’ll find new friendships surprisingly easy to establish when you’re mingling with other new mums and dads, especially if your bubs’ schedules happen to coincide.

The babysitters’ club
Set up a babysitting club where you mind other little ones once
a week, fortnight or month, and the other mums mind yours in return. You could also organise a meal roster where you take turns cooking in bulk and distributing the food. For mums who like to exercise, take turns minding the littlies or pool in for a nanny.

When it comes to supportive relationships, keep in mind there needs to be mutual agreements. Misunderstandings are frustrating and if there are enough of them the wheels may just fall off.

When best intentions aren’t enough
Even if you do have relatives nearby, the support of friends can be invaluable. This might upset relatives who have good intentions but aren’t able to follow through, aren’t parents themselves or were a very long time ago, or those who aren’t aware or have forgotten just how much help is needed. So they don’t take it personally, share that you’re finding you need more assistance than you had expected. You might find them visiting on a more frequent basis or bringing more food when they do!

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