It’s a common Facebook gripe: the new mom who incessantly posts about her infant’s every hiccup, burp, and smile, often with albums full of photos. Friends may get annoyed with excessive posts, but for parents, pictures like these can hold important memories. But that’s not all they contain — the way a new mom uses Facebook to show off her baby may actually offer some insight into her psychological state. According to researchers from The Ohio State University, women that feel high societal pressure to be perfect moms are more likely to post frequently on the social media site than their peers.

The study looked at a specific group of mothers — highly educated, mostly married women with full-time jobs. The authors found that not only do mothers who feel pressure to be perfect post more often, they also react more strongly to the comments and likes they receive on photos of their babies. Many new moms are active on social media, noted lead author Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human sciences at Ohio State, but some may use the site in less-than-healthy ways.

“If a mother is posting on Facebook to get affirmation that she’s doing a good job and doesn’t get all the ‘likes’ and positive comments she expects, that could be a problem. She may end up feeling worse,” Schoppe-Sullivan said in a press release.

The researchers found that mothers who posted more on Facebook actually reported more depressive symptoms than other moms nine months after the birth of their child.

Overall, 127 mothers from Ohio participated in the study, which entailed researchers asking how much the mothers believed society expected them to be perfect parents. For example, moms-to-be ranked their agreement with statements such as: “only if I am a perfect parent will society consider me a good parent.”

The team measured each participant’s Facebook activity after the baby was born, measuring how often she uploaded photos of her child, and her responses to friends’ comments. Then, nine months after the birth, researchers measured how much the participants identified with their role as a mother through statements like “I know people make judgements about how good of a partner/mother I am based on how well cared for my house and family are.”

Nearly all the mothers — 98 percent — used Facebook to share photos of their infant to at least some extent, and the average mom increased her Facebook activity following the birth of her child. The team also found that those who specifically made a photo of their child their profile picture tended to identify with their mother role more than those who did not.

“What these mothers are saying is that my child is central to my identity, at least right now. That’s really telling,” Schoppe-Sullivan said.

Jill Yavorsky, coauthor of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State, explained that mothers who felt pressure to be perfect felt validated when they got a lot of likes and comments, but were also likely to feel poorly if the online reaction to their baby’s photos wasn’t what they hoped.

“The easiest way for women in our society to get validation is still through being a mother because other roles that women take on are still not as valued,” she said, adding that the results were not surprising.

Schoppe-Sullivan said it was worth noting that the study examined moms with full-time jobs.

“They have jobs outside the home that can also provide validation, which makes our results even more interesting,” she said. “They have other successes to point to for validation.”

The researchers caution careful interpretation of the study’s results, but suggested that mothers pay attention to why they are using Facebook.

“It’s great to share stories and pictures of your baby, but relying on Facebook to feel good about your parenting may be risky,” Schoppe-Sullivan concluded.

Source: Schoppe-Sullivan S, Yavorsky J, Bartholomew M, Sullivan J, Lee M, Kamp Dush C. Doing Gender Online: New Mothers’ Psychological Characteristics, Facebook Use, and Depressive Symptoms. Sex Roles. 2016.