Being a new mom is hard – trust me, I’ve done it. I was fortunate enough to have a strong childcare background but even with my vast experience I still found myself needing answers only minutes after I found out I was pregnant. As usual, I reached for my computer when I had questions and I quickly happened upon BabyCenter. In today’s world, BabyCenter is a driving force in parental decisions, attitudes and behaviors. I signed up for my free account and instantly became a part of the BabyCenter Community.
If you haven’t heard of it, BabyCenter is, according to it’s Facebook page, “the voice of the 21st Century Mom and modern motherhood”. In fact, 7 out of 10 babies born in the U.S. in 2009 were BabyCenter babies. That means that about 70% of American mothers have BabyCenter accounts. With a statistic like that, the impact of BabyCenter is undoubtedly an important one. The BabyCenter Facebook page also notes that over 100 million parents have used its services since the company got off the ground in 1997. If 100 million parents are getting their information and support from the same source, I would imagine it is important to investigate everything about this source.
Let me start with my own BabyCenter experience. Upon discovering the world of BabyCenter, I began to explore it’s vast community and many services. Over the next nine months, BabyCenter guided me through my pregnancy with weekly emails and I soon found my “birth club” which is a group of pregnant moms, due in the same month, who join a message board in order to share stories, ask questions and make friends. One might be surprised to find out that each month’s “birth club” has upwards of ten thousand members! When my son was born, I couldn’t wait to share his pictures with my friends I had made on BabyCenter and, like most other members, I shared my birth story with the group.
Now that Jackson is 18 months old, I still spend about an hour a day on BabyCenter. Does that sound crazy? Well, I’m far from the only one. Many women spend 5 or 6 hours a day on the website, chatting about everything from baby food and diapers to in-law drama and sex. Also, everyone knows a long list of acronyms and abbreviations that come in handy when typing long posts. Everyone also knows to look out for drama. Debates can ensue from a simple question or statement and often get ugly. In fact, it is a regular occurrence for women to get their account suspended by moderators due to inappropriate behavior.
After spending over two years as an active BabyCenter member, I have begun to realize the profound effect it can have on parents and their choices. While I was certain I had my parenting plans decided, I will be the first to admit that the BabyCenter community has changed my mind on some very important parenting decisions. For example, I switched from disposable to cloth diapers when my son was six months old, purely because of the wonderful things I had heard about cloth on BabyCenter. My decision to switch has affected my family, my schedule and the earth. I also decided to breastfeed past Jackson’s first birthday after reading about the benefits of extended breastfeeding on BabyCenter. Again, this decision made a substantial impact on my family and even affected our travel plans.
In addition to being a helpful resource and an enjoyable pastime, BabyCenter is clearly a powerful force, I have chosen to explore some of the main ways in which I believe BabyCenter is affecting today’s parents. The jury may be out on whether the impact of BabyCenter is a positive or negative one, but there is no debating the fact that it does have a substantial effect on its members.
EVERYDAY PARENTING CHOICES
Probably the biggest way that BabyCenter affects parents is when it comes to everyday choices. These are not life threatening issues but they are things that will likely affect each baby’s current lifestyle and possibly effect their lives forever. These issues include feeding choices (extended breastfeeding, baby-led weaning, making your own baby food, etc), cloth diapering (it is very popular on babycenter), babywearing (wearing your baby in a carrier) and overall parenting style (attachment versus mainstream). While none of these issues seem life altering they surely affect motherhood as well as a baby’s daily life.
The decision to breastfeed, especially past one year of age, is an important one. Breastfeeding is, scientifically and medically, the best choice for most moms. Which means that BabyCenter’s pro-nursing stance is a good one. The tone on nearly every BabyCenter board is pro-breast feeding, although there are formula loving moms who sure make their voices heard. However, it is possible that some moms feel pressured to nurse for a long time, when it may not be feasible for them. Many mothers experience serious guilt related to an inability to nurse (or exclusively nurse) and this guilt is certainly exacerbated by the elitist comments that can be read in any breast milk / formula debate.
Attachment parenting is another popular ticket in the BabyCenter comunity. So many moms feel strongly that co-sleeping, babywearing and gentle discipline create a secure attachment between the mother and baby. This is fine, and may in fact be totally correct but so many women are choosing to co-sleep based on what they read online and they may not even be consulting their husbands on this decision. Imagine the impact on a marriage when a woman decides to toss out the expensive crib and bring the baby into the master bed… without even asking her husband. This may seem extreme but it happens all the time. In fact, after the husband gets mad and the whole thing blows up in her face, the mom will go back to her BabyCenter friends to share her story and seek advice.
Parenting choices are public knowledge on BabyCenter. You can see which groups a person is a member of, simply by clicking on their profile (they do have an option to hide this information but most users do not). Most people have no interest in hiding their decisions. In fact, many members include their parenting practices in their signature, which can be seen at the bottom of everything they post. An example of a common signature would look like this:
Alana (27). BFing, CDing, BWing, Circing, Vaxing SAHM to Jackson (8/14/09). Yes, that signature not only uses a plethora of acronyms but it includes some pretty personal information. (In case your interested, the acronyms translate to “breast feeding, cloth diapering, baby wearing, circumcising, vaccinating stay-at-home-mom”). BabyCenter users feel so strongly about their parenting decisions that they want everyone who reads their posts to know about them. Many of these people will also outright attack those who disagree with them, which is just one of the many sources of drama within the site.
In addition to the parenting choices, BabyCenter can also impact major lifestyle choices such as religion (there are groups for Christians, Jews, Atheists and many other religions). There are also several groups for “Crunchy Mamas” who define themselves as natural, earth friendly parents. “Crunchiness” is a big thing on BabyCenter and the pressure to be “crunchy” may push moms to make decisions that go against their instincts or ignore their husband’s wishes. As with parenting choices, lifestyle choices should be a personal decision and BabyCenter may guide its members to make certain choices while judging or shunning those who choose differently.
SUPPORT AND INFORMATION
The support and information offered by BabyCenter and its community are priceless. There is no other website that can provide so much support from people in similar situations. If a mom is struggling with getting her baby to sleep through the night, she can visit the sleep training board, ask specific questions, and get personalized answers from moms who have been there. If another mom has a baby with reflux issues, she can visit one of the many reflux boards and seek advice from the thousands of members who also have babies with reflux. Even a simple question, such as how to wash cloth diapers or which car seat is best for twins can easiy be answered by real moms, in real time. It is for this reason that BabyCenter is so vastly popular. However, we should not overlook the possible negative outcome of such information.
When a mother asks a serious question and gets answers from other moms who have been through the same thing, it makes sense to trust them. Surely nobody would give phony advice to a desperate mother. That may be true, but many people might unknowingly share incorrect information. What works for one baby does not always work for another and every circumstance really is unique. BabyCenter members should be extremely careful to read the responses of other users with a critical eye. Mothers should also know to consult a doctor for anything serious and should never rely on the BabyCenter community for medical advice. This may seem like common sense but it is unbelievable how many times people seem reassured by complete strangers telling them “that looks like a heat rash, I’m sure he’s fine” or “poop can be any color, don’t worry”. These types of responses can prevent a mom from taking her baby to the doctor when it is necessary and may possibly even lead to health issues or illness.
Babycenter can be very addictive, especially stay-at-home-moms who crave adult conversation while they’re home with their little ones all day. At first glance this seems like a wonderful solution to the boredom and loneliness, but with the amount of time that some mothers spend on BabyCenter, one has to wonder if it really is a good thing. Many members admittedly spend several hours a day on BabyCenter and some of that time might be better spent with their children. It seems that a great pastime can sometimes lead to an addiction that has a negative impact on the family.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no easy answer to whether BabyCenter provides more of a positive or negative impact on its members. One thing is for sure, whatever the impact is, it is very pervasive and profound. BabyCenter now has Facebook page and a page on meetup.com to organize real life meetups, When searching a parenting question on google, BabyCenter is almost always the first result to come up (and is usually the second and third result as well). BabyCenter is everywhere and is affecting hundreds of thousands of parents around the world. Clearly there are both wonderful and frightening aspects to this community but only time will tell if it does more harm than good.