'Baby Mates' Can Make a Real Difference; as New Research Suggests That Having a Baby Helps Widen Your Social Circle, LISA SALMON Finds out from Parenting Experts Why Mum Chums Can Be So Important in Helping Women through the Early Days of Motherhood

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IF YOU aree finding it hard looking after a new baby, seek comfort from your new "baby mates" - chances are you'll have a lot of them.

Research has found that new mums make an average of nine new friends in the year after giving birth, with those new chums usually living nearby and having a new baby themselves.

The study, by organic cotton children's products company Natures Purest, showed strong bonds are created almost instantly amid exchanges of views and tips on subjects such as childcare plans, illness and how to get baby sleeping through the night.

Indeed, half of the 2,000 women questioned said it is easier to bond with other women after having a baby.

Nearly half of the new mums made friends with other women at mother and toddler groups, 31% in antenatal classes, and a fifth through other friends. And almost a third of mums in the survey said they were worried about boring old friends with baby talk, which was one of the reasons they formed new friendships with women going through the same experience.

As well as antenatal classes, many mothers-to-be or new mums meet at social gatherings such as the NCT Bumps and Babies groups.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the NCT parenting charity, says: "What often happens is that when women get pregnant and their old friends aren't going through the same life change, they may find they move apart.

"Women who haven't been through a pregnancy can find it very hard to understand what it's like - they might not be able to share your world, so it's easier to talk to people who've got that shared experience with you."

The survey found that sharing birth experiences was by far the most popular topic of conversation for new mums - 73% would happily regale new friends with stories about their labour.

Another four in 10 said they felt more comfortable sharing intimate information with their new mum chums, and the same number discussed their post-baby sex life with relatively new friends.

Almost 80% have poured their heart out about their concerns on being a good mum, and the guilt over whether to go back to work after maternity leave.

In addition, one in five have discussed the baby blues with their new mum pals. Other topics for discussion were breastfeeding, sleepless nights, nappies and baby ailments.

The research found that once a child reaches school age, a mum's circle of friends increases by another five people, and two-thirds of those polled said they thought it was very important to get on with the parents of their kids' school friends.

Belinda says that many women make friendships in the early years of their child's life that last at least throughout their children's childhood, and certainly the study found that one in three mums said their best friends were the ones they met through their children.

Siobhan Freegard, founder of the parenting site Netmums.com, explains that when a woman gives birth, she doesn't just bond with her baby, she bonds with lots of new mum friends too.

"Having a child is a life-changing experience and many new mothers report feeling they can talk more freely with other mums they've just met, above friends they've known for years who don't have kids," she says.

"They know they have shared experiences with other mums who won't be bored by baby talk, unlike old friends who don't have their own families."

Siobhan suggests that new local friends are probably also taking the place of the extended family, as Netmums research has found that a generation ago half of young families lived near their extended family, but today that figure has dropped to less than a third. …