From the obligatory tiny newborn finger wrapped around the new mother’s hand in perfectly posed family photos to the “bounce back” body transformation – the pressure on millennial new mums to present a picture-perfect postpartum period is nothing short of overwhelming. This is why, as a new mum and a previous avid user of social media, I decided to opt out of the social media circus – and not post my baby at all.
I’m not alone in my view – Sophie Turner recognises this after a mishap which saw her accidentally posted a video of her and Joe Jonas’s daughter Willa on her Instagram Story. The Game of Thrones star just as swiftly deleted it, but I can understand her horror all too well.
“Earlier today I made an honest mistake accidentally posting a video of our daughter on Instagram Stories,” she wrote. “We have always advocated for our kids’ rights to privacy so sharing this publicly is something that is against anything I stand for. Our children deserve the right to grow up out of the public eye, to learn and grow in private. If I ever were to post anything of our kids, know that it is unquestionably a mistake. I would greatly appreciate if anyone who has reposted on any other platform, please delete the video.”
As I entered the first trimester sick storm, navigating the roller coaster of emotions, my social media feed and its conveyor belt of shiny highlight reels suddenly felt silly and superficial. Premieres and parties? My life was about to be all about pushchairs and Pampers – at least for a while – and I wanted to see things that reflected that; people who were going through the same things as me, and information on how, as a new mum, I was going to survive.
The algorithm soon did its thing, and before long my feed was filled with an abundance of images of your favourite pregnant pop singer; the new babies of ex-Love Islanders; TV stars with their stunning families; a million fashionable “mummy influencers” and videos that offered lots of “essential” but highly contrasting information.
How was I supposed to decipher what was correct? Was contact napping best for baby’s safety and development, or was I supposed to teach my baby to sleep in the bassinet at all times for routine and independence? Should I begin safe exercise as soon as possible after birth to lose my stomach bulge and show the world mums don’t have to be frumpy – or should I embrace my new body that wouldn’t be healed for at least 12 months after birth, not giving into patriarchal pressure? Should I take at least a year off to bond with my baby or should I be back to work, showing mums can have it all?
As I watched my body begin to balloon, these portrayals of pregnancy and motherhood that bombarded my feed quickly went from inspirational and helpful to highly confusing and stressful. And I shouldn’t be surprised. Multiple studies (including this one by Plosone) find that people who spend a lot of time on social media (in this case, Facebook) often report high levels of anxiety and stress.
At a time when you are already vulnerable – the official NHS statistics state that one in 10 women will experience postnatal depression within a year of giving birth – more stress is the last thing us new mums need for our mental health. So, as an act of self-care, I made the decision to disconnect from the socials and keep my new arrival off the apps.
But among my friends and peers, I am an anomaly. Millennial mums like myself grew up with the rise of the internet. From MySpace to Facebook, we remember the sparkly early days of social media. Finally being an active participant, instead of just a passive consumer of the media we consumed.
Social media allowed us to construct and validate our identities; to find our tribe. No wonder we are one of the most likely groups to share our lives online – and that naturally includes children when they come along. A survey conducted by SecurityORG in the US, to investigate the “sharenting” practices of 1,000 parents and children, revealed that approximately 75 per cent of parents share photos, stories or videos of their children on social media.
As one woman (Kelly, 39), mother to a one-year-old, explained to me: “I really love sharing my little one’s pics and vids on Facebook and Instagram. It keeps my friends and family in the loop, and I get to capture all those precious moments to look back on later.” On the issue of privacy: “My Instagram is private and Facebook is for friends only, so I’m not really worried about that.”
Many mums I know think this is enough to mitigate who has access to their images but I’m not convinced private profiles are entirely the answer. Even if the pictures are only shared with “real” friends, there’s still the issue of consent.
The study, for example, showed that only 24 per cent of parents obtained their child’s consent before posting – and as we know, babies cannot give consent at all. That baby’s image is then permanently available to anyone who chooses to screen grab or reproduce it – and let’s not forget, our digital footprints exist forever.
Perhaps I am overreacting. Perhaps this scaremongering is unhelpful in a world where the future requires us to embrace the merger of the digital world and the “real” world more and more. But as a new mum, my instinct screams “protect, protect!”. Protect my child; protect my mental health; protect this precious time.
In today’s social media-driven world, where everything is a breeding ground for comparison and judgement, where every part of our lives is up for public consumption, I can’t help but feel the only control we can really have is to hold our little ones close and turn off the noise.