By Louisa Nicole Rose

Parenting is hard. Really hard. And when you’re in the throws of a 2am feed, bleary eyed and trying to stay awake, it’s common to find yourself scrolling through Instagram pictures of white sandy beaches and blue skies; stylish kids in perfectly decorated nurseries, or working mums who have perfected the art of balancing their multiple jobs in an apparently seamless way. Assuming you’re not feeling mentally robust (a natural side effect of sleep deprivation as a new parent), then it can be detrimental to your mental health to see this content. 

Louisa with her husband Dom and son Theo

Louisa with her husband Dom and son Theo

One in five parents – 22% - said that happy family pictures posted on Instagram and other sites made them feel ‘inadequate’

The Priory Group

Social media platforms prioritize high performing content and unfortunately, it’s still very often visuals of what we deem to be ‘perfect’ that get the most likes. Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) announced last month at their F8 developer conference that they would be removing likes from posts, which has subsequently been rolled out in Canada. Without the ability to see how many likes a post has, users feel more empowered about the content they post themselves. The culture of comparison can be reduced; the standards we set for ourselves can become ours again versus those of an Instagram influencer. But the assumption is that the algorithm will still prioritise the most highly engaged content. I fear this content will still be of beautifully styled kitchens during snack time and influencers’ most stylish bargains until we educate society as a whole on the benefits of a more honest visual message. 

This week, Louis Theroux’s ‘Mothers On The Edge’ documentary lifted the lid of some realities of the psychological effects that motherhood can have on women and in one patient’s words, “instagram has to portray a certain image. I have to pretend everything is ok and tell everyone I can cope”. We have a responsibility to challenge this messaging and we need a stronger commitment to change it. 

We need Facebook to highlight healthy parenting content; content that reinforces the message that it is more acceptable than ever to hold your hands up and say ‘I’m not okay’. This content is there it is just hard to find if it doesn’t meet Facebook’s algorithm demands. 

It’s not about showing a negative image of parenting to scare people off, it’s about showing a balance of realistic parenting content to make people feel more prepared and supported. “It is right to talk about motherhood as a wonderful thing, but we also need to talk about its stresses and strains” said the Duchess of Cambridge, 2017. 

New parents are easy for the algorithm to identify. They’re the ones posting pictures of babies with the hashtag #newbornbaby. So surely it’s a no brainer that the algorithm use this information to share a healthier balance of ‘perfect’ parenting content and realistic parenting content? We need to unveil to those users the posts that feature tags such as #pnd, #postpartum & #mumssupportingmums. And we need to see a trigger warning signposting users to mental health support services as they view this content or search these hashtags. As Anna Ceesayof Motherdom Magazine, the UK’s first mental health magazine for parents, highlights, “when you're posting about mental health, it needs to be done in a responsible way. We need to all be aware that if we are posting content that might be triggering for someone else, we need to signpost them properly for where they can seek help." 

Maternal suicide is the leading cause of death over the first year after pregnancy MBRRACE-UK, November 2018.

We need to make sure that this healthy balance of content reaches the most vulnerable social media users who only see ‘Insta-sham’ posts - curated content that looks pretty for Instagram but doesn’t represent a true reflection of parenting (you’ll find examples of this content under #honestmotherhood). 

If new parents are isolating themselves within the virtual walls of Instagram, then its time to prioritize content that permeates the ‘perfect parenting’ image and normalizes the difficulties of motherhood.

If this article brings up any difficult feelings for readers, please visit Hub Of Hope. It’s the UK’s first national mental health database that lists over 1200 validated support networks. “The Hub of Hope allows anyone, anywhere to find the nearest source of support for any mental health issue, from depression and anxiety to PTSD and suicidal thoughts, as well as providing a ‘talk now’ button connecting users directly to the Samaritans” Hub Of Hope