New mothers are battling a growing tide of isolation as they move ever further away from their traditional network of family and friends. Research has revealed that a third of young mums now live 40 miles from parents and siblings when they give birth to their first child with one in four admitting they don't know any other parents in their area.
The breakdown of traditional support patterns has made women increasingly reliant on social networking sites such as Mumsnet and Net-mums for advice, according to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). One in five women admits to going online in search of help on questions such as breastfeeding and sleep training.
But despite the wealth of information available on the internet, a significant proportion of parents are struggling to cope and the charity warned yesterday that the threatened closure of Sure Start children's centres could make matters even more difficult for them. A recent report by the Daycare Trust and 4Children estimated that 250 Sure Start centres could close within a year while a survey of 3,500 centre managers found half were expecting to run reduced services because of budget cuts.
Sally Horrox, the NCT director of communications, said it was vital women had places where they could meet face to face. "Often women's lives revolve around their careers and colleagues. They socialise together after work and it is only after they have a baby that they find they need to get involved in their community," she said.
Susan Ashbourne, a psychologist, said women who move away from their friends and family are more vulnerable to post-natal depression than those who stay close by. But that is not the only problem they face, she said.
"Women can find themselves under financial pressure after having babies because they have lost their income. They are dealing with changes in their relationship with their partner... It helps if you can build up a network around you during pregnancy and the post-natal period." While up to 80 per cent of mothers suffer from baby blues just after giving birth, one in 10 goes on to develop full post-natal depression.
Women interviewed by the NCT, which enrolls up to 40,000 parents a year on ante- and post-natal courses, said group meetings helped them cope with the early stresses. Some said good friends were at work and they had no one to meet up with while others described feeling "trauma" at having no one to talk to about child ailments.
Sites such as Mumsnet have met the gap in traditional sources of support. Courted by politicians, it now boasts more than one million users.