If your feed is becoming overrun by pictures of a friend’s new baby, you might want to reach out and tell her that she’s a great job in real life rather than throwing her another like or comment. Parenting is hard, and Facebook may be adding a new metric for new mothers to judge their parenting skills against. According to a new Ohio State study, constantly posting to Facebook after becoming a new mother could be a sign of insecurity about parenting success.
The longitudinal study, published in Sex Roles, used data from 127 highly-educated working mothers in Ohio adjusting to first-time parenthood. Starting in the third trimester of pregnancy, researchers asked each mother to measure how much she identified her role as a mother, and how much she believed in societal expectations of what makes a perfect parent. They also measured how active the women were on Facebook, how often they uploaded pictures of their children, and how they reacted to friends’ comments and likes. Researchers tracked whether or not moms experienced depressive symptoms at three and nine months after the baby was born, too.
The study found that new moms who posted on Facebook about their babies more often were more likely to feel pressured to be “perfect” mothers and identified strongly with the “traditional” role of a mother. They were also most affected by comments and reactions, and were more likely to feel bad if a picture didn’t gain positive attention. These women also reported more depressive symptoms nine months after having a baby.
Of the new moms in the study, 98 percent used Facebook to share information and pictures about their new baby. And the typical mom also reported to using Facebook a little bit more since giving birth—the first picture post came, on average, within a week of birth. Eighty percent of mothers who had uploaded a picture said they used it as a profile picture. These mothers were also more likely to identify with the "traditional mother role," too.
“What these mothers are saying is that my child is central to my identity, at least right now. That’s really telling,” Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, study author, said in a statement. “The easiest way for women in our society to get validation is still through being a mother because other roles that women take on are still not as valued.”
Researchers warned that, although women felt more depressive, they weren’t necessarily depressive. They also don’t think the findings should necessarily be applied to all mothers, since the studied cohort was comprised of highly educated, working mothers. Stay-at-home moms, for instance, might experience using Facebook differently.
Overall, though moms were highly sensitive to the reactions, using Facebook wasn't inherently a bad thing. “It’s great to share stories and pictures of your baby, but relying on Facebook to feel good about your parenting may be risky,” Schoppe-Sullivan said.
Need help on how to juggle social media and parenthood? Here, 8 social media rules every parent needs to know.