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Social media is redefining the new motherhood—but is that a good thing?

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In the early days of new motherhood, it became a reflex to me: During any chance I had to sit down on the couch, I would open up Instagram and begin scrolling. As my own world felt largely restricted to the walls of my home—or the reaches of the park, the grocery store or a playdate, on a good day—I was hungry to see what was happening in the lives of other moms.

And right there in thumb-swiping distance were depictions of everything I was eager to have in my own life: carefree vacations, dates with partners and kids who were seemingly always healthy, always easy-going and always willing to smile for the camera.

Depending on the course of the day and my mood, these images and captions would cause me to feel anything from hope that the newborn haze looming over my life would give way or despair from the nagging thought these other moms were simply getting something lost to me.

For me, and many other moms I know, Facebook or Instagram served as important lifelines as we were tossed into the unfamiliar seas of parenthood. These platforms—both on the macro level of newsfeeds and the micro level of ultra-specific support groups—offer connections that can otherwise feel glaringly absent during the transition. They even provide plentiful resources with other moms willing to share from their experiences, which can be a nice reminder when you wonder if your baby is the only one who's ever had a particular challenge.

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The only catch is, to use a phrase that came up in multiple conversations I had with other moms, social media is a double-edged sword that can also make you feel cut down or lesser than. But rather than just accepting this as it is, we're being the change we want to see by striving for truer connections, sharing more authentic glimpses into our lives and reclaiming the experience of social media in motherhood.

Social media takes on a new role for new parents

For many of today's new parents, social media is a native language. It simply has been part of our lives, in some form, for so many years that we are just as comfortable (if not more) posting a question or sending a message through Facebook than we are with putting ourselves out there in such a way in real life.

What happens when the interactions we've been balancing internet usage with fade away—or are replaced by 24/7 interactions with an unspeaking baby? According to a 2012 study published in the journal Family Relations, 44% of women increased Facebook use upon becoming mothers.

Among these new mothers, the desire for continued social connection was one of the driving forces for regularly signing on — despite them reporting they didn't communicate with 88% of their Facebook friends outside of the virtual world.

The trend only continued in the following years, as a 2018 study on "Social Media as Social Support in Pregnancy and Postpartum" found that 84% of new mothers considered their social media friends to be a form of social connection.

To a real extent, it can be: If you're the first of your immediate friend group to have a baby or are dealing with a seemingly unique dilemma, social media can help pave the way to new, genuine friendships and can provide the human touch that is lacking from midnight Google searches.

However, you don't need to spend much time in many mom-oriented Facebook groups or Instagram hashtags to see there is a darker side to social media, too. Beyond the places where judgment and shaming seem to, sadly, run rampant, there is also the nearly inevitable instinct to draw comparisons between our personal lives and the ones that play out through meticulously selected filters.

In fact, the 2012 Family Relations study found more Facebook activity was associated with higher levels of parenting stress. That was backed up by a 2017 study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior that found drawing comparisons to other families through social media was related to more co-parenting conflicts and higher levels of maternal depression.

We're sharing more authentic glimpses into motherhood

The brilliant thing about social media is that, ultimately, we are the ones in control of our experiences. After what felt like a surge of backlash against perfectly curated depictions of life and motherhood, there has recently been a trend toward vulnerable, authentic and relatable posts.

More than just a casual observation, this is something millennials expressed wanting to see—with a 2017 Consumer Content Report finding 90% of millennials preferred "real and organic" social media posts over those that were "perfect and packaged." This, in turn, opens the door to more meaningful communication.

One mom I knew in person more than a decade ago but have since reconnected with over the shared experience of motherhood, told me authentic posts are her favorite aspect of social media. She says, "Seeing that [other moms] have issues and triumphs similar to mine make me feel like I'm not alone, which is nice."

The mindset with which we approach time on social media can make all the difference, too. As another mom told me, "When I suffered from postpartum anxiety, [social media] made me feel like I wasn't doing it the right way." Now that she's on the other side of the postpartum anxiety, however, she says she is able to see that these other moms just want to share their joy.

Taking ownership and control over our social media experiences

When social media still feels like it's doing more harm than good, is the solution to ditch it? For some people, the answer seems to be yes: According to a 2018 study from Pew Research Center, 42% of adult Facebook users have taken extended hiatuses from the platform while 26% had deleted the Facebook app from their phones within the past year.

However, for many more, the better option is to take power back into our own hands by actively seeking the connections we want and sharing the authentic posts we desire.

And it seems no coincidence that social media platforms and media brands are responding: In the past couple of years alone, Instagram Stories have provided more intimate views into friends' lives and responses have prompted more ways to communicate. Facebook is continually pursuing ways to connect people face-to-face — even with miles between them. And, with Motherly, we've responded to requests for more true-to-life depictions of motherhood with community-sourced posts that have sparked some truly incredible conversations.

True connections take more effort than a double-tap

The gateway to a rich community of fellow moms through social media can truly be a valuable resource, says licensed marriage and family therapist Heidi McBain, author of Major Life Change: Stories of Motherhood, Hope and Healing.

"When you're a new mom, it can be hard to leave the house to buy milk, let alone to meet up with friends," McBain tells Motherly. "Social media can be a great place to get much needed emotional support from other moms, especially if you're feeling lonely or isolated being at home with a new baby."

But not all connections on social media are created equally. A "like," although instantly gratifying, does little more than say the post was seen and appreciated. It's in the comments or, better yet, direct messages that the best digital heart-to-hearts of my motherhood journey have unfolded—often giving a mom I knew back in elementary school and me something new to bond over. And, better yet, giving us the reminder that we aren't alone.

As one mom friend told me about her favorite aspect of social media, "On those days I'm trapped at home, I like sharing snippets of our day and getting feedback from other moms in the 'we've been there, your life is totally normal' way."

However, licensed master social worker Erin Barbossa cautions that these conversations—meaningful as they may be—are no true substitution for in-person interactions.

"Be mindful when your online relationships are your primary friendships," she says. "Online feels easier in the short term, but it doesn't have the same long-term payoff as an in-person friendship."

Each person's relationship with social media can—and should—vary

I now look back on those Instagram-scrolling sessions from my couch as the moments that helped me bridge the transition to motherhood until I felt confident enough to fully reemerge in the world with a baby by my side.

Honestly, I also love that I can open up the time capsule that is my Instagram feed and be instantly transported back to the moments when my son was messily trying solid food for the first time or when we were cheering as he learned to crawl. But, oh, how quickly the mind can forget the lows that can accompany those highs. When you're in the midst of it, it can be challenging to get the impression through social media that other moms are managing everything better.

Even now, there are days when I realize how mindlessly I've been scrolling through Instagram or liking pictures on Facebook—during times that could be better spent asking a friend if they want to meet up for a playdate or coffee break.

That's where I have been recently, back on the ol' social media crutch. So I did something radical, at least for me: I deleted all the social media apps from my phone for an undetermined period of time. And, you know what? Instagram and Facebook will be there, patiently waiting, when I'm ready to return. Under neglect, the same can't be said for the real people in my real life.

Originally posted on Medium.

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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[Editor's Note: We support parents in making the best infant feeding choices for their family, whether that be formula feeding, breastfeeding, pumping, donor milk or any combination of feeding methods.]

Feeding babies takes a lot of effort, no matter what a baby is eating. Parents need support whether their baby is drinking breastmilk, formula or both, but we know mothers often don't feel supported in either choice. Mothers who choose or have to use formula often feel stigmatized, while mothers who breastfeed often get shunned for public breastfeeding or find themselves needing to pump in a workplace that offers no lactation room.

Individual mothers pay when society doesn't support parents in breastfeeding their babies. Formula can be expensive, but when workplaces discriminate against nursing moms, it's an expense some women have no choice but to take on. But that's not the cost we're discussing here.

A new website created by breastfeeding researchers Phan Hong Linh, Roger Mathisen and Dylan Walters suggests that, on a global scale, failing to support breastfeeding is costing an estimated $341 billion a year.

The Cost of Not Breastfeeding tool was developed by Alive & Thrive, an initiative to save lives and prevent illness worldwide through "through optimal maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, and complementary feeding practices." To be clear, the site isn't targeted at individual parents who are unable or choose not to breastfeed their babies. Rather, it's a tool that illustrates the global economic losses that might be attributed to the low percentage of breastfed babies.

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The researchers behind the tool hope policymakers will look at it and decide to commit more resources to support parents.

Using the tool, you can use a dropdown menu to see how these costs break down for 34 different countries. In the U.S., where only 24% of children are exclusively breastfed, the tool estimates that it costs more than $28,000,000 in healthcare just to treat diarrhea and respiratory infections in children that could be prevented if more mothers were supported in breastfeeding.

Though many of the developing countries in the tool have higher percentages of breastfeeding than the United States, the costs of not breastfeeding the remaining children are higher. This is presumably because the risk of the associated diseases is already higher in those countries (due to factors like poverty, water quality, etc.).

Alive & Thrive gathered data on mortality (of children and mothers); cases of diarrhea, pneumonia, and obesity in children that could be attributed to not breastfeeding; cases of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type II diabetes in mothers; the cost of medical care for those conditions; the cost of formula; and then the future cost to the economy of the loss of children's lives and having unhealthy children and mothers.

Many of these numbers are estimates based on estimates, but it's hard to argue against the bigger-picture argument of the tool's developer, health economist Dylan Walters.

"We need to be sensitive to the constraints and hardships faced by mothers and families in a world that lacks basic support systems for their physical, psycho-social, and economic well-being," Walters said in a post on Alive & Thrive's website. "Even more, mothers and families are up against a constant barrage of corporate marketing of alternatives and misinformation spread that undermines what should be boringly second nature and not stigmatized by society."

The organization recommends a minimum of 18 weeks of paid family leave and more support of nursing mothers on work sites. It also states that governments should enforce laws limiting the advertisement of infant formula.

Such laws may make sense in countries where access to clean water makes formula feeding difficult, but in wealthy nations like the United States, where formula feeding is a safe and legitimate choice, some worry limiting information about formula stigmatizes and patronizes mothers who are capable of choosing what is best for their babies.

The World Health Organization recommends that babies exclusively breastfeed for their first six months, and then receive a combination of breast milk and other nutrition until they are 2 years old. UNICEF estimates that globally as of 2016, 43% of children are exclusively breastfed during the first 6 months of life, and 46% continue until age 2. A recent survey found 1 in 4 Americans do not believe moms should be allowed to breastfeed or pump in the clear view of the public, and while 90% of Americans say they believe women should be allowed to pump at work, about 1 in 3 do not believe employers should be required to provide a lactation room.

The discrepancy here between what is recommended and what is actually supported is shocking. Mothers are being told to breastfeed, but then are also being told to cover up, or that they can't pump at work. When there are so many obstacles to breastfeeding it shouldn't be shocking that breastfeeding rates in America are lower than the WHO would like.

This lack of support and mixed messages are making the work of motherhood—something that is already deeply emotionally and mentally draining—even harder. The conversation about infant feeding should not be about supporting one type of infant feeding over another, it needs to be about supporting women in motherhood and in their choices. The cost of not doing so is staggering.

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"This time I'm really prepared," I think to myself as I board yet another plane with my now very active and mobile toddler. By the number of things I'm carrying you'd think I'm moving across the country, but actually, we are only going away for a few days. I have snacks, favorite toys, the lovey, books he likes us to read on repeat.

I will not have a screaming child on this flight. I. Will. Not.

Before I was a parent, I was one of those annoying passengers who would huff and puff when a baby started crying on a plane. I say this with full guilt because I cannot believe I was so mean. In my (tiny) defense, I used to travel A LOT for work and my time on the plane was either to catch up on sleep or decompress so the last thing I wanted to have was a screaming baby next to me.

But I am that mom now. And I wish I could go back in time and apologize to all those parents I gave nasty looks to in an attempt to make them feel bad. Because now I know, oh… I know.

Travel is annoying for everyone. Think about it: the waiting around the airport, the rushed boarding, everyone being grumpy as they try to fit their carry-ons in the overhead compartment, the tiny seats.

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Now, look at it from the perspective of a child. It's a new place, you can't really go anywhere, there are weird noises and smells and you are confined to a tiny tiny place you can't really explore. Plus, you have a bunch of strangers looking at you. And the pressure in their ears. It must be really confusing when you don't know what is happening.

Recently a mom in one of my Facebook groups asked if she should bring little candy bags with a note apologizing for her baby's cries to distribute to her seatmates on a plane. The answers were all the same: Don't. Because this is the thing, we can't go around life apologizing for our kids being kids and for us being the best parents we can be.

What I do distribute when I fly with my son is smiles. He starts screaming because I don't let him play with the tray table and someone gives me a look? I smile at them.

He gets cranky because he's trying to get comfortable to take that nap he wasn't able to because of a change in schedule? Yup, I smile.

I don't apologize, I try to not get frustrated. I just let everyone else know with my smile that "I know, toddlers are a handful huh?"

Most of the time it works, and if it doesn't, too bad for them.

What we need more of, though, is people helping out parents in stressful situations (like air travel, or any travel to be honest). I will never forget the flight attendant who gave me extra packs of cookies after seeing how into them my son was. Or the person who asked people to wait for the bathroom so I could cut the line and change him out of his blowout diaper.

I will be forever grateful to everyone that cooed and smiled and said hello to my son from the gate to baggage claim. I wish I could go back and thank the woman who held my son after she saw me fumble with all the bags and the stroller so I could get everything ready without him running away from me. This is what we need more of.

We parents already deal with tons of stress on a daily basis—are they eating enough, did they have enough playtime, are they having too much screen time, am I keeping them active enough?—that we don't need the judgment of passengers when we choose to (literally) embark on an adventure with our kids to show them the world.

So next time I travel without my son, I will be that helping hand for any parent I see. And mama, if your baby is crying, screaming and kicking on what seems like a never-ending flight, take a deep breath and smile at everyone around you, you will be landing soon.

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Life

Before my son was born, I had no idea how good my sleep life was. On the weekends especially, it wasn't unusual for me to sleep in until noon. Sometimes 1 pm if it was a really late night. (Anyone else ever finds themselves kind of hating envying their pre-mom selves? No? Just me? 🤷🏽♀️)

I remember being pregnant and everyone saying, "Get as much sleep as you can now." I knew that having a newborn meant sleep deprivation, but I felt like everyone was being so extreme in their advice to me. Yeah, you don't sleep, but they start sleeping through the night eventually right? Like at 2 months old, right?

(Oh, pre-mom me. You naive, sweet soul.)

Let's say those first two weeks home were truly eye-opening. Actually, literally eye-opening. Because it was a rare moment when I could actually close my eyes. The first night home was especially brutal.

I had not slept well in the hospital—not being able to get used to the low buzz of the hospital sounds, having random nurses or doctors come in and out of my room, and oh yeah, staring at this squishy little newborn alien that was now mine to take care of and be completely responsible for. (That thought alone is enough to keep any woman lying awake when she should be sleeping, regardless of her child's age.)

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So that first night home, I craved sleep. All my tired mind and sore body begged for was rest. In my own bed. For at least 12-14 hours straight. I went to bed earlier than I ever had before. The baby was sleeping soundly in his bassinet next to me and I thought it was my chance to catch up on what I was owed.

One hour later, the little one was crying and hungry. I popped out of bed to feed him. He settled down, I changed his diaper and got him back to sleep. Back to his bassinet. Back to my bed.


Thirty minutes later, it happened again. How can he possibly be hungry again? I thought. I stared at my husband and that's when we both realized we had a long night ahead of us.

The next morning (or really, what felt like the continuation of one very long day), I got up and wondered how I was going to do this. I hadn't slept. I felt like a shadow and my mind was as foggy as ever. I was walking around in what felt like a completely foreign postpartum body, and now my sleep-addled brain was going, too.

How do people 'mom' like this? I thought.

They just do, I would later realize.

Moms who are sleep-deprived just get through the day and do what they need to to keep their family's world—and their own—spinning on its axis.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms get up and make breakfast. They get their kids dressed for school, buckle them into their car seats and make it to pre-school dropoff on time.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms remember to bring their pump to work. They get dressed for the big meeting, pat each hair perfectly into place and walk into the building looking and acting like the boss they are.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms serve up the no-foam, double-shot mocha latte with Stevia instead of sugar the customer orders. They remember to hold the bread, serve the ranch on the side, and ask the cook if there are any peanuts in the recipe.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas tame the tantrums. They soothe their 2-year-old in the middle of the aisle in Target during an epic meltdown and they still don't forget to grab the milk they went shopping for in the first place.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas sing funny songs to make the baby laugh. They tickle chubby baby bellies, they rock their precious one to sleep for as long as it takes to see those soft baby eyelids flutter closed and content.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas get themselves ready for that first day back at work from maternity leave. They sit at their computer facing a blank screen and know that they can do this today, even though they miss their baby desperately. Because they are ridiculously good at their job.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms change that 6th diaper of the day. They wipe up the 50th time the baby spits up. They put away the same toy for the 8th time that day.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms ask their friends or partner how their day was. They listen intently to the problem or great thing that happened and commiserate or celebrate accordingly.

Even though they're sleep deprived, moms rally to go out for girl's night. They answer the distraught message their best friend sent them—even if it is a day (or three) later. They cook up an extra meal for the neighbor who just had a baby.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas check their babies' temperatures. They wait for fevers to break. They call the doctor in the middle of the night. They lay beside their children on tiny twin mattresses, offering comfort for stuffy noses and worn-out little bodies.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas want to feel like themselves. So they stay up late. To get a little bit of me time and binge-watch Younger or The Bachelor or finish reading that novel or listen to that podcast that she'd heard such great things about.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas push to check off everything on their to-do list. They squeeze in one more load of laundry or finish cleaning that last pile of dishes so it won't be waiting tomorrow. They go around the house checking windows and doors to make sure everyone is safe. They stay up worrying even though they desperately need to sleep.


As my newborn grew into the toddler he is now, I learned more and more what I could accomplish on two, three, four, hours of sleep. I became amazed—and still am—by what I see my fellow mamas and myself achieve.

Just imagine how much more we could get done on a full night's sleep.

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Life

Maisonette is a go-to destination for high-quality baby and children's fashion and products, and they just launched their very own baby registry to make preparing for your new bundle of joy that much simpler. 🙌

When growing a family, functionality is just as important as style, but that doesn't mean you have to skimp on having a nursery that is beautiful, mama. The Maisonette Baby Registry offers endless registry essentials and exclusive products from layette bundles and teething sets to Moses baskets and knit clothing. Plus, they're featuring plenty of top-rated gear to cover you from newborn stages and beyond.

"With the introduction of the Maisonette Baby Registry, we wanted to create a one-stop destination for first time parents and parents expecting their second or third child—not just for what you need, but for the extra-special items that parents actually want," sais Sylvana Ward Durrett, co-founder and CEO of Maisonette

If you're a fan of the Maisonette aesthetic, you can now create a registry (or shop for another mama!) right on their website. Even better? They're collaborated with several influential mamas, like Daphne Oz, Diane Kruger, and Lily Aldridge so you can check out their very own registries for a little inspiration.

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We can't wait to look through the curated registry picks. 🎉

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