That go-to social media mom group may be making you even more stressed, says new research - Resources

That go-to social media mom group may be making you even more stressed, says new research

Social media mom groups are a go-to for many new mothers, but participating in these groups may actually make you feel worse.

For a lot of frazzled new moms, online mom groups are an essential resource. It’s so easy to pop onto Facebook or Reddit, type out your tough questions about breastfeeding and sleep regressions, and get immediate support from other moms who’ve been there. But support isn’t the only thing moms find in their favorite online parenting groups. There’s also plenty of mom shaming, guilt and judgment from total strangers, and a new study shows moms who spend a lot of time in these groups may be more stressed.

The downside to social media mom groups

Three researchers from Pepperdine University recently looked into the ways technology-mediated social exposures — aka the time moms spend online looking at content from mom-focused social media groups — affects cortisol levels in new moms.

They recruited 125 moms for the study and chose 47 of them who were active on social media and in mom groups. Nearly half of the participants used social media geared towards moms at least four times a day, and 55% of the moms spent at least two hours a day on social networking sites.

After monitoring the participants for several days using personal surveys, sleep monitors and even saliva samples, the researchers found that many of the moms demonstrated high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. These spikes in cortisol were related to two main factors:

  • Negative interactions with other moms on social media.
  • The amount of time they spent reading or engaging in these negative interactions.

Why do mom groups stress parents out?

When people join mom groups on social media, they often have the goal of connecting with other new moms, getting advice or even just swapping stories about their daily victories and struggles. But the internet can be a tough place, especially when it comes to discussing something as personal and important as parenting decisions.

On social media, moms routinely get skewered for everything from talking about feeding their babies formula to discussing how often they clean the bathtub. It’s not far-fetched to think a single post in a mom group could inspire a lengthy and tense discussion among hundreds of moms who all have different opinions and points of view. As news of the Pepperdine study broke online, many parents chimed in to confirm as much.

“Three years ago, before my wife deactivated, I could not believe the stuff she kept showing me about our community’s mom’s page,” one person writes on Twitter. “’Am I crazy?’ she asked. ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’”

Another person adds, “Why did I stop with online mom groups? [Multi-level marketing] MLM huns messaging about ‘weight loss tea,’ the constant comparisons, toxic arguments and judgment. Omg! The judgment!”

The bottom line on social media mom groups

The Pepperdine researchers say their study results don’t necessarily indicate that online mom groups are unhealthy for moms. Instead, it shows potential downsides of the ways people interact in these groups, and they hope it will lead some people to reevaluate their actions on social media.

In a press release, Lauren Amaro, a study author and a professor at Pepperdine University, says moms groups can be a great resource for practical information, like getting recommendations for a new pediatrician. But they might not be the best place for those seeking understanding, friendship or connection.

“My advice is for mothers to first decide if the online space is the best place to seek support, given their existing tendencies to compare and their existing interpersonal relationships,” says Amaro. “Moms should explore the culture of a group prior to engaging. It’s always worth questioning why and what you’re scrolling.”