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Childbirth is a very important time for families, as new mothers and fathers embark on this lifelong responsibility. There’s a natural shift in emotions and behaviors of new parents as they tackle late night feedings, dirty diapers, engorged breasts, and all on limited sleep. Fatigue, stress, and frustration fades in with the bliss of that new baby smell found in every corner of the house. With so many new and unknown changes, it’s easy to see why new mothers experience a decrease in physical and emotional temperament, sometimes referred to as the “baby blues” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2017). In most cases, these mild mood swings are temporary, resolving in just a few days, and do not interfere with daily life. In more severe cases, these “baby blues” can transform into actual postpartum depression (PPD) (De Choudhury, 2013).
“Beyond such relatively mild blues, a portion of new mothers experience more extreme changes. According to the CDC1 , between 12 and 20 percent of new mothers report postpartum depression (a 13% incidence rate in a meta-analysis report ), a form of depression that typically begins in the first month after giving birth and is characterized by symptoms including sadness, guilt, exhaustion, and anxiety  (De Choudhury, 2013).”
The CDC used the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), as well as their own research, to determine that 1 in 9 women in America experience symptoms of PPD (CDC, 2017). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PPD is defined as a mood ailment that occurs in mothers after childbirth due to a rapid drop of hormones within the body, causing major mood swings. These mood swings include, but aren’t limited to, “feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others (National Institute of Mental Health).” The methods used in this research paper stems off of data retrieved from social media, specifically Facebook, Inc (FB). Using FB, I determined the presence of PPD behaviors in 20 new mothers from the state of Hawaii. They were chosen according to when they gave birth. All of the mothers used in this study gave birth between September 2017 and March 2018. The presence of PPD behaviors were determined by the mother’s frequency and context in posting patterns, language style, and expressive communication.
Social media has become a tool of expression in the media centralized American culture. As someone who has a personal FB profile, I can attest to the way social networking sites (SNSs), like FB, serves as the ideal platform for individuals to intentionally and unintentionally reveal aspects of their current mental health level to their followers.
“Social media is a source of population data about behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, and can serve as record and sensor for events in peoples’ lives. Whether in the form of explicit commentary, patterns of posting, or in the subtleties of language used, social media posts bear the potential to offer evidence as to how a person is affected by life events (De Choudhury, 2013).”
“Surveys such as the Postpartum Depression Predictors Inventory (PPDI)  reflect meta-analyses of risk factors for PPD , including lack of social support, socioeconomic status, and infant temperament, among others (De Choudhury, 2014).” The main contributors of PPD are deficiencies in social support and an increase in social seclusion. Consequently, these main contributors create a foundation of psychological stress that then influences the feelings, reactions, and behaviors of new mothers (Fleming, 1992), (Tarkka, 1996). Past studies have shown that the most common predictors of PPD are history of mental disorders during and prior to pregnancy, reduced spousal relationship, decreased social help, and traumatic events (De Choudhury, 2014). As a result, new mothers with PPD are usually less affectionate towards their newborns than psychologically healthy new mothers (Fleming, 1988).
All prior studies of risk factors and social networking predictors of PPD are monitored and observed through a new mother’s usage of the social media platform. The amount of social support and social capital a new mother receives depends on the frequency and content of her interactions on SNSs, Facebook in particular. “Further, infant temperament and maternal responsiveness might be measured through posts, photos, and videos the mother shares about her baby on Facebook, while stressful events in the past may have cues manifested in an individual’s social media postings (De Choudhury, 2014).”
New Mothers and Facebook
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, December 13). Depression Among Women | Depression | Reproductive Health | CDC. Retrieved April 21, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/
- De Choudhury, M., Counts, S., Horvitz, E., Hoff, A. (2014). Characterizing and Predicting Postpartum Depression from Shared Facebook Data. In Proc. CSCW 2014.
- De Choudhury, M., Counts, S., Horvitz, E. (2013). Major Life Changes and Behavioral Markers in Social Media: Case of Childbirth. In Proc. CSCW 2013.
- De Choudhury, M., Counts, S., & Horvitz, E. (2013). Predicting Postpartum Changes in Emotion and Behavior via Social Media. CHI 2013: Changing Perspectives, Paris, France, 1-10. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
- Fleming, A., Klein, E., & Corter, C. (1992). The Effects of a Social Support Group on Depression, Maternal Attitudes and Behavior in New Mothers. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(4), 685-698. Retrieved April 23, 2019, from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1992.tb00905.x.
- Fleming, A., Ruble, D., Flett, G., & Shaul, D. (1988). Postpartum Adjustment in First-Time Mothers: Relations Between Mood, Maternal Attitudes, and Mother-Infant Interactions. Developmental Psychology, 24(1), 71-81. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0012-1622.214.171.124
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Postpartum Depression Facts. Retrieved April 20, 2019, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml
- Tarkka, M., & Paunonen, M. (1996). Social support and its Impact on Mothers’ Experiences of Childbirth. The Journal of Advanced Nursing 1976-1996, 23(1), 70-75. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.1996.tb03137.x.
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