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“It takes a village to raise a child” – yet mothers in the West now frequently live without the village. Women commonly reside far from extended family and transitioning to motherhood is often socially disruptive. These social changes can have long-term bio-psychological consequences for mothers and children.
Public health literature shows that social support is imperative for maternal mental-health and secure mother-infant relationships. However, a biological anthropological perspective highlights how current public health solutions are too narrow, being predicated on nuclear family norms along with medicalisation of maternal support – leaving the wider informal network of potential supporters ‘untapped’.
The COVID-19 pandemic creates a situation in which practical, informational, and emotional support are all likely to be more important to new mothers, but it will also be having unprecedented effects on their access to such support. As we currently do not know how long the pandemic will last, it is crucial that public health officials know what forms of social support are most beneficial for protecting emotional wellbeing at this time, so as to best support mothers going forward in this and future crisis situations.
This study will collect quantitative social network, support, and wellbeing data from 165 mothers living in London, the epicentre of COVID-19 in the UK, whose youngest child is aged 6 months or under, via online survey. We will also collect qualitative data from a smaller sub-sample of mothers (n=20), selected to maximise diversity, during four focus groups held via online video conferencing.
This project will both produce research insights in its own right, capturing the impact of current social distancing measures on maternal social support and wellbeing, and pilot social network data collection techniques to inform future large-scale grant applications.