Research finds Facebook use can impact on body image during pregnancy

New research from Swansea University has shown how high use of the social media site Facebook can have a negative impact on pregnant women’s body image

FacebookThe study published in Midwifery conducted by MSc Child Public Health  student Sarah Hicks and supervised by Dr Amy Brown in the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences explored 269 pregnant women's use of Facebook and their body image satisfaction in pregnancy. It found that the more women used Facebook, the higher their body image dissatisfaction. For nearly two thirds this was a direct effect of using the social media site; they reported that comparing their pregnant body and weight gain to other pregnant mums and celebrities on Facebook made them feel dissatisfied with how they looked.

Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor and Programme Director for the MSc Child Public Health said ‘We know that higher Facebook use is associated with greater body image dissatisfaction in young people but this is the first study to shows its influences upon women during pregnancy. In some cases we found that women were deliberately restricting the amount of food they were eating during pregnancy or trying not to put on weight. This can increase the risk of poor nutrition and growth during pregnancy, which we know can have a long term for the health of babies. It’s really important to eat as healthy a diet a possible during pregnancy.

Sarah Hicks, who is now training to be a midwife, explained ‘We found that body image dissatisfaction was high amongst pregnant women with over half having concerns about what their body looked like during pregnancy, how much weight they were putting on and what their body would look like after having their baby. Less than one third ‘loved’ how they looked during pregnancy and less than 40% felt confident about their pregnant body. Meanwhile around two thirds were worried about their changing shape and felt they were gaining too much weight. Sadly 40% had been upset by other people’s negative comments about their body.’

Dr Brown added ‘There are number of explanations for the findings including that Facebook use may increase concerns about body image in pregnancy or it is also possible that women who are feeling negatively about their body seek out sources such as Facebook to make comparisons. However we did find that two thirds of women agreed with statements that they compared their body negatively to other pregnant women and celebrities on Facebook and that seeing photos of other pregnant women increased their dissatisfaction with their body. This is really high and of concern from both the perspective of the physical health of mum and baby during pregnancy but also mothers wellbeing. We know that people often only put their best photos on Facebook or use photo shopping apps to change how they look but this isn’t always clear and there needs to be more awareness, or a stance against doing this. Weight gain and body changes during pregnancy are not only normal but are helping your baby grow and develop. We need to celebrate this, not put pressure on women to look a certain way at this time.  

Sarah Hicks added ‘The findings are relevant to everyone who supports women during pregnancy. Understanding the pressures women face during pregnancy is really important to providing care that takes into consideration not only their physical health but their wellbeing too. Good mental health is critical during pregnancy and we hope the findings can be used to support women through their pregnancy and beyond.

Read ‘Higher Facebook use predicts greater body image dissatisfaction during pregnancy: The role of self-comparison’ in Midwifery.