The Impact of Social Media on Women's Postnatal Wellbeing: An Online Experiment

Hannah Ryan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Background: Becoming a mother represents a monumental life transition which can bring complex and contradictory emotions, such as love and anxiety, joy and disappointment. However, discourse analyses suggest that cultural depictions of motherhood on image-based Social Networking Sites (SNSs) are predominantly simplistic and idealised (LeMoignan et al., 2017). This poses potential mental health risks to mothers, since research has found that the internalisation of idealised maternal norms harms women (Choi et al., 2005). A large body of experimental research has also found that exposure to images idealising female bodies can have immediate consequences for mood and body image satisfaction, and that those with pre-existing vulnerabilities may be more susceptible (Holland & Tiggeman, 2016). Aims: The current study aimed to investigate the impact of idealising portrayals of motherhood on image based SNSs on postnatal mental health. Methods: An experimental design was used. 184 postnatal women were randomised to one of three experimental conditions: (1) an idealising condition, (2) a normalising condition or (3) an architectural photography control. Results: Body image satisfaction, life satisfaction and self-compassion all decreased in the idealising condition but increased in the normalising and control conditions, with no significant differences between the latter two groups. Negative mood reduced slightly in all conditions. Differences in life satisfaction between the idealising and control groups were significantly moderated by parenting sense of competence, although the effect size was small and no other moderation effects were found. Conclusions: This study supports claims that cultural factors have an important bearing on postnatal mental health and that different types of social media can be a force for harm as well as for good.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Macleod, Andy, Supervisor, External person
  • Riazi, Dr Afsane, Supervisor, External person
Award date28 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • social media
  • mothers
  • postnatal depression
  • postnatal anxiety
  • postpartum
  • mental health
  • Instagram
  • Motherhood
  • parenting
  • postnatal mental health
  • motherhood myths

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