Oct 17, 2022 – Is Instagram making new moms feel inadequate? Yes, a new study warns that images of new mothers on social media may lead to body dissatisfaction and feelings of dissatisfaction enough.
Lead researcher Megan Gao, Ph.D., is an Early Professional Fellow in the Health and Medical Research Council at Westmead Clinical College of Children’s Hospital, University of Sydney. She wanted to know if the Instagram photos reflected the actual population of women after childbirth.
“We were concerned that the images would be perfect, putting postpartum women, who are already a vulnerable group, at increased risk,” she says.
The results were recently published in the journal Health CareAnd the She suggests that social media may not be the right platform to send health messages to new mothers.
The months following a baby’s birth are a poor time for new mothers. Women experience massive hormonal shifts, sleep deprivation, and major life change – all while caring for a new baby.
2021 Nestle A study found that 32% of parents feel isolated, while a 2017 online survey in United kingdom It found that 54% of new mothers feel they have ‘no friendship’. According to American Psychological AssociationAs many as 1 in 7 new mothers will experience postpartum depression, while 9% will have Post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Postpartum Support International.
The pandemic may have exacerbated the isolation that new mothers feel. Study May 2022 In the Journal of Psychological Research It found that rates of postpartum depression in the United States rose in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While new motherhood was stressful enough in the analog era, women today have to contend with social media, adding to feelings of isolation. A study was published in June 2021 in frontiers in psychology Social media users between the ages of 26 and 35 said rates of loneliness are higher. This is in line with the Gow study, which noted that 39% of monthly active users on Instagram are women between the ages of 18 and 44. About two-thirds – 63% – log on to the platform daily.
“Postpartum can feel very isolated, And speaking out loud about the postpartum transformations that all mothers go through helps set expectations and normalizes the experience for us in the postpartum period,” says Katie de Montel, 36, a mother of two in Washington, DC.
Instagram sets false expectations
In their study, Gao and her colleagues found that Instagram sets unreasonable expectations for new mothers.
She and her fellow researchers analyzed 600 posts using #postpartumbody, a hashtag that had been posted on Instagram more than two million times by October 2022. Other hashtags like #mombod and #postbabybody were used 1.9 million and 320,000 times, respectively.
Of the 600 posts, 409 (68%) focused on women as the central image. Researchers analyzed 409 publications to see if they reflected women’s postpartum realities.
They found that more than 9 in 10 publications (91%) showed women who appeared to have low body fat (37%) or average body fat (54%). Only 9% of the women who appeared to be overweight showed up. The researchers also found that only 5% of the photos showed features commonly associated with the postpartum body, such as stretch marks or scars from cesareans.
Women should be aware that “what is posted on Instagram may not be realistic and not representative for the vast majority of postpartum women,” says Gao.
Nor did the photographs depict the women as physically strong.
Zhao’s team examined 250 images for signs of muscle. More than half, 52%, showed little or no muscle. This finding came even though more than half of the original 409 photos showed women wearing fitness clothes (40%), underwear (8%), or swimwear (5%).
According to Emily Fortney, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Sacramento, California, the study shows that health care workers must work even harder to set expectations for new mothers.
“This is a deeper issue of how women are generally portrayed in the media and the pressure we face to return to an unrealistic size,” she says. “We need to encourage women not to focus on images, but to focus on the postpartum experience in a holistic way that includes physical and mental health.”
Childbirth a disease that must be overcome?
While retail brands of nike to me Versace A wide variety of feminine forms are beginning to appear in advertisements and on the runway, postpartum women seem to have been left out of this movement. Zhao and her fellow researchers point out that a Study 2012 She examined the pictures in famous Australian magazines and concluded that the pictures compared the pregnant body to a disease from which the woman needed to recover.
Photos posted on Instagram indicate that the belief still prevails. Gao and her fellow researchers say that images of women wearing fitness clothes after childbirth suggest that “women like to be seen as exercising as a way to break the ‘hold’ of pregnancy or ‘repair’ their bodies after childbirth.”
New Orleans resident Sydney Neale, 32, a mother of two who gave birth to her youngest child in November 2021, said social media helped shape her vision of what it would be like to “recover.”
While Neil said some celebrities like mom-of-two Chrissy Teigen have “kept it so real” on Instagram, she’s also “watched a lot of women on social media hold back” [their weight] quickly and spread it as if it’s back to normal much faster than 6 months.”
Positive body tools for new moms
Gao continues to study this topic. Her team is currently running a study asking women about social media use, how they feel about their bodies, and how their beliefs change after viewing photos tagged with #postpartumbody. (Women with children under the age of two can access the survey over here.)
Because of the unrealistic images, Gao and her team said Instagram may not be a good tool for sharing health information with new moms.
But there are other options.
Washington, DC-based de Montel, whose children were born in 2020 and 2022, has used apps like Back to You and Expectful, and she follows Carrie Luescher, a postpartum and neonatal nurse and certified lactation consultant, on Instagram. These tools focus on the mind/body connection, she said, which is “better than focusing on the size of your jeans.”
Women should also be able to turn to trusted healthcare professionals.
“Providers can start talking about the romanticization of pregnancy and motherhood starting with prenatal care, and they can start talking more about social media use and the pros and cons of use specifically in the perinatal period,” he says. Fortney. “This opens the door to a discussion on a wide range of issues that can actually help assess, prevent, and treat perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.”
Neil, a mother of two in New Orleans, said she wishes her doctor had spoken to her more about what to expect after giving birth.
“I don’t really know how to break body image, but I think starting out in a medical setting can be beneficial,” she says.