Does Becoming a Mother Affect Self-Esteem?

Having a child is one of the biggest changes you can experience in life, so it seems reasonable to guess that parenthood could bring all kinds of psychological changes. Recently, a group of researchers dived into the question of what these exactly changes are, focusing on how becoming mothers affects women’s self-esteem and satisfaction with their romantic relationships.

In a massive study, the researchers analyzed data from 84,711 Norwegian mothers. Several patterns emerged in how pregnancy and then motherhood changed women’s attitudes toward themselves and toward their romantic relationships.

First, the researchers found that on average, women’s self-esteem declined over the course of pregnancy. Once women became mothers, their self-esteem started to rise again – but only for six months! From six months on, mothers’ self-esteem underwent a decrease that was gradual and prolonged.

When it comes to relationship satisfaction, the typical effects of new motherhood don’t seem to be much better.

The researchers found that first-time mothers tended to be highly satisfied with their romantic relationships during pregnancy. However, these mothers then experienced a precipitous decline in relationship satisfaction around the time of childbirth. After that point, relationship satisfaction continued to decrease more gradually over the next few years.

For mothers having their second, third or fourth child, the pattern was less pronounced. Rather than abruptly becoming less satisfied with their relationships around the time of childbirth, they experienced a more gradual decrease over time.

Overall, self-esteem and relationship satisfaction correlated with each other, suggesting that the effects of having children on the two were linked.

Of course, these are trends of how having kids affects women on average. There’s going to be variation from one individual to the next. And researchers haven’t sorted out why motherhood has these effects on mental health – although anecdotally, we can probably make some guesses! Still, with all that said, it’s worth keeping in mind that the transition to motherhood poses some mental health risks to watch out for, possibly including decreased self-esteem and relationship satisfaction.

Image: Flickr/Abi Porter