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Here's why new mothers post so many baby photos on Facebook

The science of oversharing.

PETER DOCKRILL
2 JUN 2016
 

We've all got friends who might overshare a little when it comes to putting their personal lives on Facebook, and the phenomenon can be particularly noticeable with new parents, who sometimes can't seem to stop themselves from posting baby updates, pics, videos, and more pics.

Now a new study looks at the psychological motivations that can influence some new mothers to post so much on social media, and the findings suggest that they could be oversharing in less-than-healthy ways.

 

"If a mother is posting on Facebook to get affirmation that she's doing a good job and doesn't get all the 'likes' and positive comments she expects, that could be a problem. She may end up feeling worse," said psychologist Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan from Ohio State University.

Schoppe-Sullivan and her team tracked 127 mothers in Ohio from when they were pregnant through to after their babies were born. The women were asked questions during the third trimester of their pregnancy about how much they believed society expected them to be perfect parent.

After the birth, they were tested on how strongly they identified with their role as mothers, rating how much they agreed with statements such as: "I know people make judgments about how good of a partner/mother I am based on how well cared for my house and family are."

The participants' use of Facebook was also monitored after the babies were born, including the frequency of activity and how often they uploaded photos of their babies, plus recording the mothers' emotional responses to their Facebook friends' comments and likes (or lack thereof).

The researchers found that those women who believed society had greater expectations of them as mothers – and who identified strongly with their motherhood role – were highly sensitive to feedback on their social media posts.

"These mothers paid close attention to the comments they got when they posted pictures of their baby," said one of the team, Jill Yavorsky. "They felt validated when they got a lot of likes and comments, but they were also more likely to feel bad and disappointed when the reaction wasn't what they had hoped."

 

Another of the study's findings showed how incredibly pervasive the use of Facebook is when it comes to mothers sharing news and images of their babies. A stunning 98 percent of mothers in the study uploaded photos of their infant to the site, and 80 percent of these mums had replaced their personal profile photo with a picture of their baby.

"What these mothers are saying is that my child is central to my identity, at least right now," said Schoppe-Sullivan. "That's really telling."

Separate research has suggested the average US parent posts almost 1,000 photos of their child online before the child turns five years old.

These figures might not shock regular Facebook users who've become used to seeing baby photos and updates populating their newsfeed, but think about it – 1,000 photos. Here's what that actually looks like.
 Of course, the researchers from Ohio State acknowledge that their small sample of 127 women from Ohio were mostly highly educated women from dual-career couples, so their results certainly aren't representative of new mothers from other walks of life.

But the results, published in Sex Roles, could be a timely reminder that while social media can be a valuable way of keeping in touch with friends and family, people should be wary of letting it dictate how they feel about their lives, especially when it comes to something as important as parenting your children.

"It's great to share stories and pictures of your baby, but relying on Facebook to feel good about your parenting may be risky," said Schoppe-Sullivan.

In addition to negatively affecting how new mothers may feel about themselves, uploading images of your children to social media – despite its popularity – is a topic of some controversy.

Posting images of your children on the internet without their consent might be intended as a good-natured act, but it could also be considered unfair, especially as children grow up.

In France, authorities have gone as far as to warn parents they could face up to a year in prison and a fine of €45,000 (US$50,200) for publicising details of their children's lives on social media without their consent.

Aside from how it makes young people feel as they grow up – with widely circulated and perhaps less-than-flattering images of them being shared online without their permission – there's also the threat of losing personal anonymity as things like facial recognition technology and data-mining businesses become more powerful and sophisticated.

So sharing cute photos of your little one growing up might seem perfectly fine now, but by disseminating that information across the web, you might be unilaterally surrendering information about your child that can't be regained. Post responsibly, people!

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