When I got pregnant a year ago, alongside preparing the nursery, deciding on names and watching my baby’s development on pregnancy apps, I also started following mummy bloggers on Instagram.
I thought this would be both a helpful source of information on becoming a new mum, as well as a chance to have a sense of community – especially during my last months of my pregnancy, when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit the UK.
But soon after I had my baby, who is now six months old, I realised that following Instagram mummy bloggers had given me a set of false expectations – and in turn, made me feel like I was failing as a mother.
I would see mothers preparing many different fruits and vegetables all throughout the day – carefully positioned on bamboo plates for the perfect photo. I would see mothers breastfeeding like pros. Some mothers would already be back to their pre-pregnancy bodies, seeing a personal trainer and watching what they ate. They all seemed to have it together.
It made me feel guilty that I often use pouches for ease. My son also has a range of fruit and finger foods, and things like porridge and toast – but it’s a far cry from dragon fruit smoothie bowls.
The breastfeeding posts would make me feel inadequate because I chose to formula feed – something that still seems to be looked down upon despite it being very common. And due to postnatal depression, I’m actually heavier than I was during pregnancy – it’ll take me awhile to get back to my usual size.
I soon realised that following these types of bloggers wasn’t beneficial to me. I’m sure they are to many, but the picture-perfect, posed photos were a constant reminder that that’s not me – and that maybe that meant I wasn’t a good enough mum.
So, I decided to unfollow them all. I felt remarkably better very quickly, and without the constant comparison, I started to realise what a great mother I am. My baby is safe, healthy and very happy. He doesn’t stop smiling, and lights up when I walk in the room. That is now my reminder – a positive one – that I’m doing my job right.
I’m not alone in experiencing negative feelings from following mummy bloggers on Instagram.
34-year-old Jen Davies, from Cardiff, started following mummy Instagrammers during her pregnancy. While she found the breastfeeding advice helpful, the accounts started to make her feel inadequate.
She says: ‘I don’t think I noticed immediately how I was being affected by them. What did strike me first was the amount of advertising there was, together with gifting. Then you see endless perfected highlights of their days or lives and it’s difficult not to compare when their houses are pristine with a lot of high end items then you look around at your messy house and piles of laundry, you’re tired, raw and vulnerable.
‘I think the way a lot of Instagrammers grow and maintain a following is by bringing the viewer in and making the person feel close, familiar. It’s impossible not to compare that this person seemingly in a similar position has it together – why don’t you?
‘Why doesn’t their child cry when it’s all yours seems to do? And I think that breeds resentment, hurt and jealousy – it’s such a hard time anyway, that none of those feelings are helpful in the short or long term.
‘I’m not sure what the catalyst was for removing those accounts but I do feel better for having done it. I only tend to follow a select few now – I know she doesn’t fit the mould necessarily but Stacey Solomon is an absolute joy. I definitely feel a bit better about my parenting – I try to approach it as “never mind what they’re doing, concentrate on what YOU’RE doing”.’
Stephanie*, 28, followed mummy Instagrammers after having her first baby in 2013.
She said: ‘Honestly with my first baby I did not notice how much it impacted but reflecting on it, it made me miserable. I would wake up and see how smiley they all looked, how beautiful the homes looked, the mums amazing and I would just sob because I felt like I was in a black hole, I was in a bad relationship so I used to think I deserved to be struggling.’
When she had her second baby during lockdown, she started unfollowing the accounts as she realised she was constantly comparing herself to other mums.
She says she ‘didn’t feel good enough’, and even found herself obsessing over the clothes she dressed her babies in.
Without this influence, she feels a lot better. She said: ‘Concentrating on myself and my family feels amazing. It’s so easy to get bogged down looking at everyone else on Instagram, feeling jealous, feeling hurt. Like, why it can’t be you?
‘Now I understand life as a mum is hard, we are all winging it to some extent as long as my family are happy and healthy that’s all that matters.’
Laura Clinch, 36, from London, has been a blogger for years and has always enjoyed reading other blogs – so with Instagram an extension of that, she felt it was only natural to start seeking out mummy bloggers to follow.
‘At first it was fine,’ she tells us. ‘Lovely squishy baby in cute outfits. Where could you go wrong?! It’s as the children have got older and I’ve returned to work. The first one is four now and the second is 18 months.
‘Mum guilt is a real thing and it’s made worse when I’m watching these perfect mummies that snapped back into their pre-baby jeans or an even smaller size in a matter of weeks. They prepare these fantastic fun snacks and amazing meals that their children devour whereas my eldest survives on beans on toast, mac and cheese and spag bol and the youngest pretty much solely eats yoghurts and custard (they’ll eat at nursery and school but not at home!).’
Laura ended up suffering badly with anxiety and decided to take a step back. With a supportive husband, she took time off work and didn’t look at social media – and realised this was helping. So, she started to curate her feed, and those who were making her feel bad about herself were ‘the first to go’.
She says: ‘It just happened that most of them were mummy accounts. It wasn’t that I had gone in intending to unfollow those accounts specifically, it just happened to work out that way.
‘It’s definitely helping. I don’t have so much to compare myself to and so I feel less of a failure and an imposter when it comes to being a mother.
‘My girls are happy and love what we do. Whether that’s watching Frozen and Moana for the millionth time and singing at the top of our voices in our pyjamas or even just going to the park. I’m not actually failing them and I’m enjoying spending time with them much more because I’m allowing myself to be in the moment and not second guessing myself constantly.’
Dr Rachel M Allan, a Chartered Counselling Psychologist and mother based in Glasgow, says that it is ‘natural for us to draw social comparisons to evaluate ourselves’ and that ‘social media is one environment that gives endless opportunity for comparison’.
‘Becoming a parent is a life-changing event, and often a complex time on an emotional level,’ says Rachel.
‘It is a time when we can feel at our most vulnerable. As new parents, many of us can find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, or as if are in over our heads.
‘Context and timing is significant because when we are new parents, we might be most likely to look at social media when we are sitting doing a night feed, or having a moment’s breather during the day. In other words, we might look at social media when the contrast between our reality and what we see on social media is most stark.
‘So we compare that version of ourselves – as we sit exhausted, covered in sick, and perhaps feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed – to the cherry-picked and edited version of someone else’s parenting experience.
‘At a time when we might already feel unsure, or lacking in confidence, making comparisons with families who seem to have it together can push us further into despair.’
Rachel suggests taking ‘control’ of your Instagram feed and being ‘selective with what you follow’.
She adds: ‘Notice how you feel when you scroll through your social media feed. If what you see brings up a sense of inadequacy, failing, or hurts your confidence, consider whether you want to continue following certain accounts.
‘Ultimately, take control of your feed and be selective with what you follow. And always remember to be careful when comparing your true reality with someone else’s edited and filtered version of reality.’
A spokesperson for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance adds: ‘When you’re a new mum, everything is so new and it’s natural to look to others for validation that you’re doing a ‘good job’.
‘Pregnancy and early motherhood can also be a time of immense pressure. Even in normal times, more than one in 10 mums experience a mental health problem.
‘For anyone out there who is struggling: you are not on your own. Please speak with someone you trust and do what you can to look after yourself, your wellbeing, and your family. You’re the expert on you, so if you think social media is doing more harm than good, take a break.
‘Despite the changing COVID restrictions, health professionals are still available, services are open, and they want to support you. If you’re not sure where to go, please take a look at the Maternal Mental Health Alliance website for guidance.’
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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