Social media and the internet have become our “go tos” in accessing news and information. However, this instant connection has created unique pressures for parents. From monitoring screen time, reading the latest parenting research, and scrolling newsfeeds filled with creative birth announcements, extravagant first birthday parties, and family vacations, these digital tools can make any parent feel overwhelmed – especially new mothers.
For mothers who are at risk of or are experiencing postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety, social media and the internet can be quite conflicting. While there are benefits, these tools can exacerbate feelings of isolation and internal stress. Two examples:
- The façade of perfectionism and “comparison culture”
Newsfeeds offer a seemingly endless stream of opportunities to compare ourselves to others. For a woman who experiences irrational and distorted thoughts that can accompany PPD and anxiety, scrolling through photographs of happy-faced couples, parents and smiling babies can reignite feelings of shame and guilt or cause her to unnecessarily compare her situation to others. “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I failing at being a mother?” “Why can’t I be my normal self?” “Why am I not connecting with my baby?!”
Many women experience intrusive thoughts related to baby’s health during pregnancy and postpartum. Unfortunately, catastrophic thoughts can spiral when a mom attempts to seek reassurance from WebMD and other medical websites. Some health professionals refer to this as “cyberchondria.” It is important that parents try to avoid self-diagnosing and reach out to trained medical and perinatal mental health professionals with questions and concerns.
Signs and symptoms
Self-doubt, irritability and tearfulness can be very normal during the two weeks following birth, and a certain level of emotional conflict can be expected from triggered hormones and sleep deprivation.
Between 70 and 80 percent of women experience the “baby blues” while adjusting to motherhood. However, not all women will experience postpartum depression and anxiety. Symptoms vary in severity and can gradually start and last months.
Some common symptoms of PPD include increased feelings of isolation, the inability to feel motivated to get dressed or get out of bed, uncontrollable crying, anxiety and panic attacks, and emotional numbness. If depressive symptoms persist after a few weeks, it’s essential to connect with a trusted family member, friend, OB-GYN, doula, or mental health professional. It really is never too early to gain support.
What to do
So is social media the enemy for a mother feeling lonely or vulnerable?
Absolutely not! There is great value in connecting online with other parents who can relate and provide advice, support and validation. Embrace the age of social media while also being aware of the risks. Join supportive motherhood forums and groups that avoid shaming. Recognize when the support from parenthood Facebook groups and blogs aren’t enough and when individual therapy and support groups may be the next needed step in healing.
Supportive Web-based resources
- Social forums, mommy blogs, and websites such as LittleGuide Detroit are excellent tools to connect with other parents in the metropolitan Detroit region to gain valuable resources. Participate in forums where you feel connected and supported.
- Be intentional with your use of social media and technology. Use creative apps, such as Peanut, that allow you to gain new connections and meet up with other mothers in your local area. Adjusting to parenthood can be lonely. Companionship and social connections are very helpful in managing depression and anxiety.
- Apps that offer guided meditations and promote mindfulness can also ease anxiety and depressive symptoms. Take the time to breathe! Calm is one app to consider.
- Check out podcasts that offer insightful perspectives from experts on issues related to infertility, pregnancy, loss and postpartum like Mom & Mind Podcast.
- Women shouldn’t feel ashamed if antidepressants are a part of their treatment plan. Obtain the facts from your OB-GYN and lactation consultant about the use of medications.
- Remember how powerful physical activity is in combating depression and anxiety. Force yourself to get outside and walk if weather permits. Many health professionals also suggest the use of omega-3 fatty acids can help improve depressive symptoms.
- A mental health professional or an in-person support group provides postpartum adjustment support and treatment. Formal groups, such as Beaumont Postpartum Adjustment Support Groups, offer free weekly support and education to parents.
– Kristen Salem Carney is a local mom and Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer. As a licensed therapist, she provides counseling services to adolescents and adults in addition to treating mothers experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.