Yes, social media does affect a mum’s mental health

Online pressure to be the perfect mum can push vulnerable new mothers closer to the edge.

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Everything Malini Pravin Saivi read on social media painted a rosy picture of the pure, unconditional love a mother has for her newborn. So, when she gave birth three years ago to a baby girl, she waited for that feeling ― it did not come.

“I’ve seen mothers posting (on Facebook) an hour after giving birth about how all the pain was worth it, with photos of them looking lovingly at their baby. But I didn’t feel that that the pain was worth it,” said the 33-year-old Singaporean, who is now living in Chennai, India.

What she read online made her feel like a bad mother, but she was too embarrassed to share those feelings with anyone, she said.

New mothers usually share so much of their joy online and they don’t share the downsides. Everyone wants to post a pretty picture,” she added, noting that she believed she would have been subjected to online abuse if she had shared her emotions about not feeling love for her baby.

The lack of emotional connection with her new daughter, coupled with pain from lacerations from delivery and an oversupply of milk that led to engorgement, resulted in Malini starting to feel extremely low. A death in her family the day she delivered also took a toll on her.

She started to imagine hurting her daughter, and the thoughts became more violent.

However, she did not succumb to them, and things took a turn for the better when she had a routine check-up at the six-week mark at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

She opened up about her feelings, and was referred to a psychologist, who in turn referred her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with postnatal depression. With the right medicines, and support from her family, Malini was able to recover.

While social media and online support groups may be a source of help for new mothers, they can often also make mothers insecure about themselves.

Though social media gave Malini an idealistic image of what kind of a mother she should be, she also found comfort in other Facebook groups. Here, she could ask questions and immediately receive a flood of answers from concerned fellow mothers.

Psychologists and counsellors said that while social media and online support groups may be a source of help for new mothers, they can often also make mothers insecure about themselves.

Social media leads to comparison

Counsellor Silvia Wetherell, who specialises in maternal mental health, said that one of the biggest perils of social media for new mothers is comparison. “They are comparing themselves at their worst to a filtered snapshot of a person at their best,” she said.

Wetherell notes that photos of mothers who look like they have it all together can make those who are already struggling feel inadequate, giving them a sense of isolation and that they are the only ones not coping. In reality, these well-adjusted mothers may just be very good at hiding their emotions.

The Internet can also provide other unrealistic comparison points for emotionally vulnerable mums. “Now, they don’t only compare themselves to their peers, but to celebrities, who are in bikinis a week after giving birth, going on dates, making it look like motherhood is not a big deal,” Wetherell points out. “They feel like they are failures, and terrible mothers.”

Wetherell sees around 20 mothers going through postnatal depression or anxiety every week. She notes that the pressure to breastfeed is a “huge” contributing factor. “Research shows breastfeeding is very good for the baby, and there is a lot of pressure to breastfeed. Sometimes, when it doesn’t work despite the mother's best efforts, it can trigger postnatal depression.”

She adds that when there is anxiety and pain surrounding breastfeeding attempts, it could hinder a mother’s attachment to her baby.