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Popular hashtag could be damaging self-esteem of moms

The study thus questions whether Instagram is an acceptable platform for conveying health information to postpartum women.

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Sad and tired woman with PPD working beside table, looking on laptop, sitting in messy room
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Alice Clifford via SWNS

The popular Instagram hashtag #postpartumbody could damage the self-esteem of women who have just given birth, warns a new study.

Doctors say it is because the images women post using the hashtag do not reflect the real post birth bodies of women.

"These images are presenting an ‘idealized’ version of the postpartum body which may contribute to body dissatisfaction in postpartum women who view such imagery and may already be struggling with feelings of inadequacy," said study lead author Dr Megan Gow.

The researchers found that in 2020 there were 1.3 million images uploaded to the platform using the hashtag.

By September 2022, this number had risen to two million, showing that around 1,000 images tagged with #postpartumbody were uploaded daily during this time.

The study, published in the journal Healthcare, looked at 600 images, and examined how much weight each woman had, how muscly they looked, their pose and what they were wearing.

Three hundred of the photos were the most recent posts on Instagram and the other 300 were the most popular posts.

Gow, of the University of Sydney said: "Women with lower body fat, and in fitness attire, are more likely to post images of themselves on Instagram than women of higher adiposity (more body fat)."

Of the 600 images, 409 of them were focused on women. Of these, the researchers could gauge the weight of 306 of them. 37 percent had a low body fat rating, 54 percent had an average body fat rating, and only nine per cent had a high body fatness rating.

In 250 images the women's' muscularity could be studied. 52 percent of them had "little to none" muscularity, while 44 percent of women had "visible definition" and four percent had "high level of definition."

They also found that 54 percent of the 59 images that showed a before-and-after image were of women who had lost weight.

More than half (52 percent) of women were posing in a non-specific way, while five percent were posing to show off their postpartum body features, and 40 percent were wearing fitness clothes.

The study highlighted that the most popular posts were less likely to be text-focused.

They also were less likely to be linked to a particular product or program, or healthy food. This suggests that women may be more interested in viewing images of other women on Instagram, rather than receiving health information.

"Viewing such imagery may worsen body satisfaction at this already vulnerable life stage, given that Instagram is highly accessed by women during the postpartum period, the inclusion of health information may be necessary to interrupt the potentially harmful content observed in our study," Gow said.

“This may include information targeting diet, exercise, infant feeding and psychological wellbeing to optimize postpartum health.”

The study thus questions whether Instagram is an acceptable platform for conveying health information to postpartum women.

The findings are due to be presented at the International Congress on Obesity in Melbourne later this month.

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