A systematic review published in the journal Midwifery describes that social media influencers and bloggers can negatively and positively influence pregnant women and new parents and that the exposure may impact early parenting experiences and decision-making.
Study: The impact of social media influencers on pregnancy, birth, and early parenting experiences: A systematic review. Image Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock
The proportion of new parents and women of childbearing age spending substantial time on social media platforms is increasing gradually worldwide, with over a third of the world's population spending time on Facebook at least monthly.
A sharp rise in social media usage has been observed during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, primarily because of compulsory social restrictions. According to a report published in late 2020, social media usage has increased by 30% in the first year of the pandemic.
Particularly, for pregnant women and new parents, social media has become an effective platform for sharing experiences, seeking advice, and getting emotional support related to pregnancy, birth, and early parenthood.
Social media influencers develop an online digital audience by sharing their day-to-day activities through curated content. They often share very personal and emotional aspects of their life with their audience to remain popular on social media. This put them in a unique position to influence their followers' emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
The current systematic review explores how following social media influencers and bloggers who create pregnancy, birth, and early parenting content may influence the personal experiences and decision-making of pregnant women and new parents.
Various scientific research documentation databases were searched to identify studies that reported the impact of social media influencers/bloggers on pregnant women and new parents.
A total of 84 articles were screened, of which 17 were selected for the final analysis. Only original peer-reviewed journal articles of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method design were included in the analysis.
The systematic analysis of selected articles revealed four comprehensive domains, including "sharing information," "support," "identity," and "monetization." Overall, it was observed that following social media influencers and bloggers during pregnancy and early parenthood can have both positive and negative impacts.
Sharing information between influencers and followers was identified as a vital aspect of influencing experiences, ideas, and decision-making of pregnant women and new parents. However, evidence indicates that sharing information could sometimes influence an influencer.
The analysis of comments in social media posts revealed that about 32% of the comments are related to giving information and 7% are related to seeking information. For example, the analysis of comments made on a social media post about pediatric vaccination revealed that the comments discouraging vaccination are 3-times higher than that encouraging vaccination.
Regarding the authenticity of shared information, the analysis revealed that a significant fraction of original posts provide at least one piece of scientific evidence; however, the comments made by followers are rarely supported by scientific evidence.
Support was a commonly identified domain in the studies included in the analysis. The analysis revealed that pregnant women and new parents prefer to comment on social media posts by influencers with the perception of making connections with relatable people who are experiencing similar things.
Mothers more likely to engage in social comparison seemed to have higher perceptions of support from parenting influencers. As mentioned by the scientists in the review, "the sharing of common experiences facilitates perceptions of reciprocal support between the commenter and the influencer, and also between the individual commenters."
Four of the selected studies reported the domain of identity. The identity of pregnant women and new parents as influencers' followers includes the perception of self, gathered by perceiving influencers as inspirational individuals and engaging with the "virtual support networks" developed by influencers.
The analysis revealed that the image of perfect motherhood provided by influencers could induce negative emotions among mothers, leading to the development of lower perceptions of parental self-efficacy. However, there was evidence indicating that following parenting posts can also be transformative in a positive way.
Some of the selected studies raised the possibility that social media influencers might be focusing more on financial profits rather than influencing followers. For example, influencers often share information on pregnancy-related products or services with followers to monetize their platforms. The studies investigating this aspect revealed that followers openly show their dislike for influencers who are engaged in monetary practices.
This systematic review describes that social media influencers and their online content on pregnancy and parenting-related issues might serve as potential sources of information and support. However, attention should be paid to the fact that engaging with influencers and entirely relying on their content/blogs might sometimes be associated with harmful consequences.