My Explore page is pregnant women, babies and Huggies ads. What happened to the party pics? Being a mum can be all-consuming, but does it really have to take over your social media too?
The Insta mum trend is massive and tons of young mothers now use the platform. From #mummymeetups and the babies that can’t yet walk but are already style icons, to the fit mums back in their jeans a week after giving birth, some parents are making a living out of sharing their lives online. And while I fully support the woman who takes grandma to the coffee shop to take pics of her with her tiny grandchild for the 'gram (slay while you can, new mum), personally, I find the balance between sharing and oversharing hard.
Instagram has become the place to project the self that you want the outside world to see, whether that’s professional or social. A lot of mums (me included) feel wary about posting too many photos of their kids because they don’t want to seem boring or predictable, but at the same time there’s an overwhelming urge to share in what can be the most fulfilling, important and cute parts of your life.
"You definitely need a mix of [baby and non-baby] pictures. It’s about saying 'I’m not only a cool, fit mum but somebody that goes out and does stuff'," says Rosie Choi, a 33-year-old mother of one from Southampton. "You’re trying to project an image of yourself and maintain an identity."
Rachel Wood, 35, from London, agrees, saying she goes out of her way not to appear 'Insta smug' and is careful not to post too many baby pictures. "I think about my posts 100%. I post pictures of my child very rarely because I don’t want it to seem like suddenly I’m just a mum and I don’t have any other interests," she says.
Others are less concerned. Emma Harper, 29, from Surrey, shares pictures of her two young children most days. Does she think she overshares? "No. People can unfollow me if they want to. I’ve got a private account and people follow me for family photos," she says. Why does she do it? "Because they’re beautiful, I’m proud of them and I’m showing them off."
I don’t see being a mum as something that’s beneath me; it’s just that feeling – that the world is getting smaller – can be painful at times and Instagram effectively documents this.
The way you interact online can change before the baby even arrives. Instagram is awash with people popping up pregnant as if out of nowhere, and not sharing your bump is more of a statement than sharing it. Beth Jones, 32, says that before getting pregnant, her social media included images from hype festivals and Stories direct from the DJ booth. Now, the whole thing has quietened down and she barely posts at all. "It’s definitely a big change. I’ve had to grieve my old life. I don’t see being a mum as something that’s beneath me; it’s just that feeling – that the world is getting smaller – can be painful at times and Instagram effectively documents this."
So what do the experts say? Caroline Gatrell, a senior lecturer in work and family at the University of Liverpool, thinks mums are conflicted. She thinks the narrative of 'good' mothering requires an intensive focus on children and that they must be seen to be the priority. "Mothers who share their investment in time spent with children on Instagram may be regarded as fulfilling these demands. Yet at the same time, once women have children they are often assumed to have less commitment to paid work – even if this is not the case. Any reminder of maternity can be enough to contribute to the marginalisation of mothers in organisations."
It’s true, we can’t win. Today's mums are expected to keep up appearances on social media, but they might pay a high price at work.
Charlotte Faircloth, lecturer in the sociology of gender at UCL, agrees this is something of a double-edged sword, in part a product of a culture that on the one hand places motherhood on a pedestal, and on the other denigrates it as not 'real' work. "For a lot of women, Instagram can be a way of validating what they do," she says, "but at the same time they have to monitor themselves for not seeming too mumsy."
One positive is that it's not all about glossy pictures. While many mums do use the site for traditional inspiration snaps including home styling, kids' fashion and fitness, we’re seeing a fast-emerging new trend for mums to post raw and emotional pictures detailing the realities of motherhood. "Some of the best-loved posts include C-section scars, birth images with babies covered in blood rather than wrapped in a blanket looking cherubic, and wobbly post-birth bodies," says Siobhan Freegard, founder of parenting site ChannelMum.com. "Even a few years ago, these images would have been considered taboo so Instagram is breaking down barriers and helping mums feel empowered simply by showing what’s 'normal'."
Whatever we use it for, it's inevitable that it impacts on how we view ourselves as parents and what we could be doing better or worse. Although Emma says her relationship with social media has changed completely since having kids, she wonders whether it's actually just an extension of her desire to post and get validation from others. "Before kids, I’d only really post if I wanted to send someone a message, show someone how happy I am, or project an image of myself. Now I'm showing my kids off."
Whether you're lurking but not posting, fitting into the 'I'm still cool and it's really effortless' tribe, or simply trying to let others know that you're seriously knackered and reaching out for help, there's no doubt that Instagram for mums has highs and lows – highs in terms of making connections in what might be a very isolated time, and lows in terms of the constant comparison with others.
Ultimately, how and why you post should be less about what people think and more about what you feel like doing. As Rachel says: "I hardly post anymore. I don't want to overexpose my son and anyway, does anyone really give a shit what I’m posting? Who am I posting for?"
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