Scrolling for Two: How Social Media Affects Expectant Mothers’ Wellbeing

A new study co-authored by Dr. Nadine Zeeni, Ms. Joelle Abi Kharma and Dr. Lama Mattar finds that the prevalence of social media has now swayed pregnant women of our generation into developing harmful eating habits and self-deprecating body perspectives.

In this day and age, the importance of social media as an easy, accessible and rather predominant means of communication and information exchange cannot be overstated, especially as, to some extent, it has grown to govern the trajectory of our individuality, from keeping track of our activities to dictating the type of food we eat.

Exposure to social media was found to have potentially negative effects on the physical and mental wellbeing of Lebanese university students in a previous study co-authored by Associate Professor of Nutrition Nadine Zeeni and Instructor of Nutrition Joelle Abi Kharma.

In a recent paper published by Dr. Zeeni, Ms. Abi Kharma and Associate Professor of Nutrition Lama Mattar under the title of “Social media use impacts body image and eating behavior in pregnant women,” the authors focus on the influence that social media use can have on pregnant women, in particular, with respect to their self-image and dietary habits.

A total of 192 pregnant Lebanese women aged 17-42 were surveyed in the cross-sectional study, half of whom were pregnant for the first time. The majority were in their third trimester, held bachelor’s degrees and had a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) before their pregnancy.

Those who recorded increased SM usage also scored highest on healthier dietary habits.

However, social media posting and anxiety/dependence on technological devices led to postnatal concerns, competitiveness in appearance and body image dissatisfaction to varying degrees. In line with recent studies that have established a direct correlation between increased social media activity and self-perception, the study found that increased social media activity, such as posting or viewing photographs, led to body image dissatisfaction and the internalization of a thin ideal.

The impact that social media has on body image is particularly concerning in the case of pregnant women whose bodies undergo numerous changes. “These include normative body changes, such as weight gain, hormonal changes, stress, nesting behaviors, anticipation, peripartum depression (including anxiety) and partner relationship changes,” the study states.

While social media use and posting were essentially associated with healthy eating behaviors, as mentioned by extant literature, both engagement and exposure to image-related content led to restrictive dietary behaviors and reduced food consumption.

“During pregnancy,” the researchers said, “women report reducing intake of foods that could harm their pregnancy but do not increase their intake of foods that provide important nutrients required for pregnancy.”

Such behaviors, the study added, heighten the risk of developing newer types of eating disorders, such as orthorexia nervosa – an eating disorder resulting from an obsession with healthy eating – in addition to other subclinical disorders.

In light of the findings, the study appeals to healthcare providers and policymakers to develop training sessions aimed at raising awareness about the “effects … on physical and mental well-being and to incorporate protocols for assessment, education and counseling for pregnant women on the healthy usage of social media.” Additionally, the researchers suggest using social media as a platform for developing intervention and prevention strategies to mitigate the negative impacts, in turn morphing the medium from a perpetrator to an advocate of positivity and change.