Women with postpartum depression often complain of social isolation, and multiple studies have documented that having inadequate social supports is a risk factor for postpartum depression.  A recent study suggests that increasing a mother’s social network may not only benefit the mother but it may also have benefits for her baby.

In a recent study, researchers looked at data from 1,082 mother-child pairs.  Women answered questions about their family structure, friendships and relationships in their communities.  The researchers examined the association between these variables and cognitive assessment in the children at two years of age.

Overall, mothers had an average of 3.5 friends in their social network.  When mothers had larger social networks, their kids tended to have higher scores on cognitive testing.  Large family size had a negative impact on early cognitive development, while the size of one’s neighborhood network (people who were not necessarily identified as friends) did not have a significant impact.

The study does not tell us exactly how these social networks can improve children’s cognitive development; however, adding this finding to previous research, one could hypothesize that having social supports outside the family can help decrease parenting stress and reduce the risk of maternal depression, factors which have been associated worse developmental outcomes in children.  


Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD


Mother’s Friendships May Be Good for Babies’ Brains (Medscape – free registration)

Association of Maternal Social Relationships With Cognitive Development in Early Childhood.

Shin EK, LeWinn K, Bush N, Tylavsky FA, Davis RL, Shaban-Nejad A.  JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Jan 4;2(1)

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