Is Facebook a social saviour or stress maker?

mum baby computer
mum baby computer 

Facebook may have been created for college students, but it now seems to be a perfectly designed social saviour for new mums. Sharing joys with friends is just a click away, venting via a status update can offer a few virtual shoulders to cry on, and life outside the baby bubble is accessible through the news feed.

And it’s being used more often by new mums; a recent US study found that mothers reported using Facebook more frequently in the nine months after their baby’s birth.

But is that Facebook use doing them good?

The study found that when more of the mothers’ Facebook friends were relatives, the mums adjusted better to parenthood. But those who visited the site more often, and who posted more often, had higher levels of parenting stress.

While the study offered no conclusions on the cause of this stress, it all raises some interesting questions. Do new mums turn to Facebook to alleviate their stress? Or do they actually find Facebook an additional source of stress when parenting a baby?

Reading other people’s posts often upset Jane Britton, a mum of one. With a baby who was waking every 40 minutes some nights, Jane says she would log on to Facebook and struggle to feel happy for the mums with “easy” babies. “I would end up resenting other mums bragging about their good night of sleep when I was so sleep deprived,” she says.

Danya Braunstein, a psychologist who specialises in the impacts of media and technology, says Jane’s scenario is common. “Some risks associated with using Facebook during the early stages of infancy are those which involve social or personal comparisons, and which may be harmful to new parents’ sense of identity or competency,” she points out.  

She says the nature of Facebook – with all content being deliberate and constructed, showing only what we want others to see – means it’s common for new parents to perceive others’ posts in a way that has negative psychological or emotional consequences for them.

But Jane says it wasn’t just other people’s posts that left her unhappy. “I realised I was on it so often that I wasn't being present in the moment,” she says. “My baby took about 45 minutes to feed and I was spending most of that time looking at Facebook and not her face, which was changing so quickly.”

After taking a two month break from the site during the first year of her daughter’s life, Britton says both her mood and sleep improved. “It was the best thing I did.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Ailsa Jones, who admits she’s “become addicted to Facebook” since having her baby. Describing the arrival of her firstborn as “a very big shock”, she says she felt isolated in the early days of motherhood.

“Facebook was great – each night when I would get up to breastfeed, I would catch up on what was happening in the world,” she says. “I could hit that ‘like’ button to show friends that I may be absent at the moment, but I still care and am interested in their lives.”

Kimberley Lerato also felt that Facebook positively impacted her early motherhood experience. She says she struggled to connect with mothers in her prenatal and mothers’ groups, as they had “fundamentally different parenting values”. Preferring an attachment style of parenting, Kimberley says she’s used Facebook to connect with others who share her beliefs, and who can give her support and non-judgmental advice.

Kate Davis, a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology, is currently finalising her PhD research on the information experience of new mothers in social media. While there are areas of complexity and difficulty, she says her research generally shows that Facebook and other social media “can have a significant positive impact on a mother's experience of transitioning to motherhood”.

Kate says her findings suggest that not only is Facebook a powerful tool for overcoming isolation, but it also helps mums work out how to mother, by discussing the practicalities of parenting, and can normalise their experiences.

“Mothers also experience 'moments of light' in social media – when someone else's intervention, through advice, solidarity, or even humour, has a significant positive impact on their experience,” she says.

Ultimately, of course, it comes down to you.

“It's important for mothers to work out what they are comfortable with and … whether it's right for them personally to use social media,” Kate says.

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