Is Motherhood Contagious?

September 27, 2019
Sometimes it seems that when a woman becomes pregnant, suddenly all her friends want to be mothers as well. However, this doesn't mean that wanting to have a baby is a rule. Not every case is the same.

There are a number of hypotheses that circulate among the general public about motherhood and its psychological effects on women. One of the theories that drives our ideas of motherhood is the notion of maternal instinct. There is also a lot of curiosity around the idea that motherhood is contagious.

While there have been numerous studies carried out and their results have been enlightening, there is still a lot we don’t know with respect to motherhood as a social phenomenon. Let’s look a little more closely at this issue in the following article.

Speculations about motherhood

It was common to think that maternal instinct was something inherent to all women in the past. Certainly there was a strong belief that motherhood is one of the most powerful biological forces. It seemed that motherhood was an unstoppable phenomenon, regardless of upbringing, lifestyle, or other factors.

They also believed that any woman was a potentially good mother in the past. People expected women who were childless to take care of their nieces and nephews and the children of others outside their family circle. In general, the idea was that every woman was good at taking care of children and that this was enjoyable to them by nature.

Is Motherhood Contagious?

With time, these ideas also helped to spread a number of powerful speculations about motherhood. One of these is the idea that pregnancy is contagious.

It seemed that when a woman decided to have a child and became pregnant, so did the women in her social circle (friends, coworkers, or other social groups). Friends couldn’t help but feel their maternal instincts calling.

In many cases, it appeared that this was effectively the case. Especially between friends who were of the same age. Nonetheless, there are always exceptions and it’s not correct to think of pregnancy as something contagious. After all, there are many factors to take into consideration and not every case is the same.

Is motherhood contagious among friends?

In 2014, an interesting study was published regarding the social impact of pregnancy on friendship groups. The study was carried out by experts Nicoletta Balbo and Nicola Barban and it was titled: “Does Fertility Behavior Become Contagious Between Friends?”

The researchers studied the behavior of 1700 adolescents and young American adults (the age range of the sample was between 15-30 years).

As a result of the study, the researchers realized that the girls who were in secondary school were heavily influenced by their friends when it came to their decision on becoming mothers. Therefore, if one of them wanted to become pregnant, the others would want to become pregnant too. This also happens with habits like drinking, smoking, or exercising.

Is Motherhood Contagious?

When it comes time to explain if motherhood is something contagious between friends or even among women who aren’t necessarily friends, Balbo notes the following:

“We believe there are three possible explanations. First, people compare themselves to their friends. Being surrounded by friends who are new parents makes people feel pressure to have kids as well. Second, friends are an important learning source. Becoming a parent is a radical change. By observing their friends, people learn how to fulfill this new role. Lastly, having children at the same time as friends may bring about many advantages — friends can share the childbearing experience and thus reduce the stresses associated with pregnancy and childrearing. It’s also easier for people to remain friends when they’re experiencing parenthood at the same time.”

Social groups are powerful

What the research above wants to transmit is that, at certain ages, in certain surroundings (like secondary school), maternity is contagious between girls. This can have a positive impact on their psycho-emotional health because group members share their experiences, doubts, fears, and advice.

They relieve their fears or anxieties and they’re more healthy emotionally because they feel the support of their friends. They aren’t just sharing information about pediatricians and vaccines. Friends also share doubts about the ways of raising their children and carrying out certain activities, etc.

So, what?

Research shows that the question regarding pregnancy and the social tendency to copycat or to also desire to become pregnant is complex. Our social groups can shape our sense of belonging. They also influence our thinking much more than we tend to acknowledge.

However, as we mentioned previously, not all women are the same and they shouldn’t feel obligated to make their life decisions based on maternal instincts. Women who choose never to have children but still lead full and happy lives are a clear example of this.

 

  • Balbo, Nicoletta, and Nicola Barban. “Does Fertility Behavior Spread among Friends?” American Sociological Review 79, no. 3 (June 2014): 412–31. doi:10.1177/0003122414531596.
  • A. Miguel Larguía, María Aurelia González. Maternidad Segura y Centrada en la Familia. http://www.msal.gob.ar/images/stories/bes/graficos/0000000238cnt-g08.mscf-enfoque-intercultural.pdf