New mothers should limit their time on online support forums because conflicting advice and judgmental comments can raise their stress levels, California academics have suggested.
Research from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles found that mothers who went on social networks were more willing to compare themselves with others and be more stressed.
Academics have suggested that women should limit the amount of time they spend on online forums and instead turn to real-life friends for help.
Dr Lauren Amaro, co-author of the study, said: ‘If you are prone to confrontation, anxiety and stress, you need to be very careful about how you use these sites and how often.’
She said entering an online space that has “thousands of voices weighing in” on how to raise a child could potentially leave mothers running “in a myriad of clutter.”
Study inspired by real life
Dr. Amaro, an associate professor at Pepperdine, and her co-authors said they got the idea for the study following their own negative experiences online.
For example, Dr. Amaro described the response she received to a simple question about treating eczema in a private Facebook group for moms.
Some mothers have shamed others for suggesting steroid creams or natural remedies like coconut oil.
“I found it crippling and I had to step out of that space,” she told the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Amaro and her colleagues, Dr. Theresa de los Santos and Dr. Nataria Joseph, set out to study the physical effects of online groups on women’s well-being.
They interviewed 125 new mothers, recruited through social media, and eliminated those who had conditions that could affect stress.
The final participants were 47 predominantly white, college-educated women who used social media to varying degrees.
Over four days, the researchers collected saliva samples from the women to test for levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone.
Too much cortisol can lead to high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and weight gain.
They conducted saliva samples and questionnaires daily when the women woke up, four hours and nine hours after waking, and again before bed.
Link between social media and stress levels
The researchers recognized the limitations posed by the small and homogeneous sample size.
But their findings, published in the journal Biological Psychology, have suggested a link between the time women spend on social media and elevated cortisol levels.
They concluded that mothers would be better off limiting their time on social media and reaching out to their offline friends, relatives and doctors for advice.
Dr. Joseph, a clinical psychologist at Pepperdine, said not all of the effects of motherhood forums have been negative.
In fact, researchers’ previous studies of online groups for mothers have found that sometimes women could benefit from comparing themselves to others.
“If a mom feels that another mom is doing better as a mother, she might be inspired by that mom and learn from that mom,” Dr. Joseph told the Wall Street Journal.
“It can go in an unhealthy direction when a mom feels inadequate and her identity as a mother is threatened.”
Researchers have suggested that women should keep their time on online forums to less than an hour a day and avoid going to bed shortly before bed.
Dr. de los Santos said that for most women, “even if you get some good from the sites, the bad outweighs it.”