The social media challenge for new mums
Do other mums' chirpy baby updates ever get you down? Helen Foster explains how to feel better online
How many times did you check Facebook today? If you're like the average mum it was a lot: 63 per cent of our social media time is spent on it, says research from Legal & General. Meanwhile a study from SMA Nutrition found that four per cent of mums posted their first baby pic on the site within five minutes of their final push! But keen as we might be to use it, it doesn't always make us feel good. In fact one in three people say they feel worse after using Facebook than before.
The good news is that there's no need to log off to feel better. There really are ways to recapture the fun side of Facebook and ensure your Status Updates reflect the real you – and no, that doesn't have to be happy-clappy 24/7. 'It was a picture of my friend's little girl in a white dress that finally tipped me over the edge,' says 33-year-old Jennifer, who is the mother of two-year-old James.
'I had already changed James three times that day and was running out of clean clothes. I clicked onto Facebook and there this little girl was, looking... clean! It was just one in a long line of pictures of her doing something perfect while I was falling apart. I actually threw my phone against the wall and started to cry. I don't think I stopped for two hours. My husband came home and thought someone had died. I just jabbered something about "******* Kate and her perfect life," and totally lost it again. It was only when I came off the site for a few months and stopped comparing myself to "perfect Kate" that I started to relax.'
Jennifer's experience doesn't surprise psychologist Dr Genevieve Von Lob from London's City Psychology Group. 'Jennifer's a modern mum,' she told us. 'We're in a society where we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect and have it all – and when something makes us think that's not happening, it hits us hard. Some women can find social media inspiring and affirming, but for others it can create emotions such as inadequacy, envy, upset and low self-esteem.'
While Twitter and Pinterest can also have this effect, the problem is particularly likely on Facebook. For starters, studies have shown that people who post regularly on Facebook tend to be narcissistic and want to be liked or thought of highly. They therefore send affirming posts to create this image. It's also the site where we use our own name and are most likely to be posting to people we know in person rather than strangers, so we're less likely to want to be negative.
The result, according to Professor Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford and co-author of The Stressed Sex (£16.99, OUP) is that, 'Social media is skewed to positive news and so it's very easy to view yourself negatively when you compare yourself with other people on it. You're left feeling that your life pales in comparison with their happy, smiley, fun-filled lives.'
Add to this the fact that if you have a lot of friends online you're exposed to more people in one day than you'd ever meet socially – all of them presenting their best side of course – and it's no surprise we can all get fed up.
But if 'Facebook envy' is generally happening to women day-to-day, it's going to happen in spades after childbirth. This is a time when it doesn't take much to knock your self-esteem to bits: you're tired, you're hormonal, everything is new and you have no idea whether you're doing things right.
'I had a real love/hate relationship with Facebook in the first few months,' says Sammy, 30, whose son is now two. 'I didn't realise how bad "mummy guilt" was going to be and I'd find myself crying at what I thought were my failures, like the fact that Mikey wouldn't stop crying. Then it turned out he had undiagnosed silent reflux – no wonder I couldn't calm him! But I'd see a friend just doing something normal like going to a mum and baby group – when I often couldn't leave the house – and it just made me feel hopeless.'
Of course, not everything about social media is negative. 'One brilliant thing that it does do is allow new mums to keep in touch with their old, non-baby friends or colleagues, when seeing them face-to-face, or even finding time to make a phone call, isn't an option,' says behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings. 'This can help you keep a sense of individuality and that's important for a lot of new mums.'
It's also a great way for family – and even partners – to keep in touch with all the latest developments in your baby's life. 'My husband had to go back to work shortly after our daughter was born,' says Bex, 29, mum to Holly, aged one. 'Also, my family lives in Somerset and I'm in Southampton. Texting images costs money and Facebook is free so three or four times a day I would post pictures of what our daughter was doing or wearing and tag them in them just so they could feel more involved.'
When things are going right, Facebook does make us feel good. Every time someone 'likes' a picture of your baby or responds to your status, you'll get a rush of dopamine to the brain that will make you feel happy.
'And, I'll be honest, when Mikey finally did sleep through the night, I posted it,' says Sammy. 'He's had a few development issues so all my friends' babies sat up, crawled and walked before him. I don't usually put things on Facebook to provoke a reaction, but when he slept through before any of the other babies I just wanted to say, "Yes, I've finally done something right. I am an awesome mother," and have people other than my husband know that.'