New moms are flipping the script on sites like Instagram and Facebook to showcase what it's really like to be a new mother—stretch marks, sleep deprivation, postpartum depression and all.

By Jenn Sinrich
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Adobe Stock (4); Getty Images (6)

Five years ago I remember scrolling through my Instagram newsfeed full of artsy, overly filtered posts. Even the non-celebrities I followed looked so #blessed with their designer clothes,  perfectly uniform families, lux vacations, and toned bikini bods. It was rare to see a caption longer than a sentence, and that sentence was typically a well-played pun. I saw children smiling on Santa's lap, perfectly coiffed mamas at theme parks with three kids, and delivery room photos that made labor look like a breeze—in retrospect, it all seemed a bit unnatural and dare I say staged. And then something changed—parents started breaking the mold.

Fast forward to today and I'm sitting on my couch nursing my four-month-old daughter while rocking heavy bags under my eyes and hair that hasn't been washed in, oh, maybe a week. As I scroll through my Instagram, the posts are looking a whole lot like I do—real and unfiltered. I see a new mom of twins sharing her 2-week postpartum belly in all its glory, a second-time mom sharing an unfiltered image of her simultaneously breastfeeding her 3-year-old and 3-month-old, and raw footage of a water birth showing a mother hand-delivering her own child.

Even celebrity moms are sharing more honest moments. Chrissy Teigen posted photos of her son miles wearing a head-shaping helmet that treats flat head syndrome, a condition that affects up to 50 percent of babies, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Amy Schumer shared a pic of her half-asleep pumping in bed the morning after doing standup.

It's especially during sleep-deprived and wildly frazzled moments like these that I'm eternally grateful for the fact that Instagram as well as social media as a whole, has shifted its view towards those real, hard-hitting moments of parenting. Those filters are being pulled back to reveal what life is really like for a new mom—and the stories of influencers and celebrities alike are transcending toward a narrative that feels familiar. In fact, the goal of the modern-day influencer now seems to be an effort to make new moms feel less alone in their struggles.

"Instagram, more so than the other social media sites, has transformed into a platform where moms feel comfortable sharing their ups and downs," Ilyse DiMarco, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of No Drama Mama, says. "As more and more 'mom voices' are being added to the community every day, they're painting a wider variety of pictures about what everyday 'mom life' really looks like."

We're tired of that pretend world

The old view of social media putting insane pressure on moms to be "perfect" certainly still exists, but a revolution against it—one of honest mothering—has also risen. More and more women and moms especially are growing tired of pretending that life is all sunshine and roses. This very notion is what inspired Brenda Stearns, a mom of five who runs the Instagram account @she_plusfive, to start posting real-as-it-gets images of her day-to-day life. "People need to understand that we don't have it all together—our kids cry, the house is a mess sometimes, we are all human, we feel sadness, and anger, and disappointment," she says. "We can establish a healthy relationship with social media and realize that there's so much life happening behind the screen." On her feed, she shares posts and stories showing what it's like to be a mother of five and the reality of the chaos that it can bring. She also shares several images of her postpartum body—stretch marks and all. "Abs and flat tummies are great! ...but have you ever considered that your body literally rearranged its organs to bring another life into the world?? So yeah! Your stretched out, scarred, jiggly tummy is pretty impressive too!" she quipped on one recent post.

Last Valentine's Day, New York mom Megan Harper was one month postpartum with her third child in five years and was jealous of watching everyone's romantic Instagram posts all day. "I was home covered in breast milk and wrangling two kids inside a small apartment all day because it was freezing out," she says. "Instead of telling everyone how much I loved my husband, I decided to share a picture of what was really going down in my home—me eating Pho takeout and drinking canned wine while nursing my one-month-old sitting next to my 2-year-old who was passed out on the couch." She received more positive feedback than she could have anticipated—mostly from other moms thanking her for keeping it real.

"From a psychological standpoint, social media has moved from being a platform in which to prove something to one in which you express something," says Laura F. Dabney, M.D., a relationship psychiatrist. "You either had to prove you had the best product, the best ideas, the best relationships, or the best life, but now with the popularity of short live clips on platforms like Instagram, expressing yourself in real-time has become not only easier but more popular or trendy." This shift is helping social media become more of a place to turn to for support than ever before.

Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a New York-based neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, attributes this shift towards unveiling those real and difficult moments of parenting to the rise of body positivity. "The body positive movement opened up this discussion about not just feeling shame about our bodies, but a lot of other things the media can make us feel guilty about—like being a new mom!" she says. "Celebrating our bodies soon melded into celebrating our mommy bodies, our ups and downs, and accepting our flaws." This, she explains, is where this trend really began to shift, and people began to question the negative impacts social media has on our mental health. "Social media can be extremely intrusive, but it's the growing acceptance of 'no filter' that allows new moms to feel comfortable in this space."

A new network of motivation, camaraderie, and support

Facebook and Twitter have become a go-to source of support for new moms, particularly for those living in more rural areas where an in-person support group is few and far between. "A simple search on Facebook will help you find pages and groups dedicated to providing news, tips, and support to moms by region, ideology, and even age," says Dr. Hafeez. "On Instagram, you will find moms sharing their experiences on the comments of tip-driven, motivational post geared to inspiring parents to take time to care for themselves, or stop and smell the roses from time to time."

Layla Lisiewski and Megan Sullivan co-founded The Local Moms Network in an effort to deliver local resources and community connections to moms in suburbs across the country. "We know that being a mom is hard work, but felt strongly that finding resources in your town shouldn't be," Lisiewski says. Within a few months of launching in 2017, women from other suburbs were reaching out and wondering how they can bring this amazing platform to their community. There's now a Local Moms Network in over 90 suburbs across the country. "As moms, we would be doing our communities a disservice if we weren't raw and real on social media and including the everyday struggles that come with having children—eating, sleeping, organizing schedules, finding the right resources, all the while making sure we take care of ourselves and our house and our job and our mental and physical well being," Lisiewski adds. "There's something comforting knowing that we're all in this parenthood thing together."

How to use social media as a parenting support system

Don't get me wrong, I still follow quite a few perfect-appearing social media moms—they certainly still exist, particularly on Instagram. Sometimes their posts make me feel jealous, anxious, guilty (or all of the above—particularly at 3 a.m. when I'm awake with my baby, again). "There are always going to be those super-toned moms who post pictures of themselves and their gorgeous, seemingly well-behaved children," says Dr. DiMarco. "They're usually displaying the killer healthy salad they made or reminding you about how important self-care is, especially for successful entrepreneurs like themselves—and by the way, their 4-year-old is doing well with her Mandarin lessons, thank you very much for asking."

When a new mom sees a social media post that's inspiring mom guilt, shame, anxiety, or anger, Dr. DiMarco suggests that they consider the messenger. "Is this a person with whom you have a lot in common? If you don't respect the messenger, it doesn't make sense to aspire to be like them, or follow their lead in any way."

She also suggests asking yourself how much you really know about the person to whom you're comparing yourself. "Oftentimes, you simply don't have enough information to make a fair comparison," she says. "If you're comparing your life, about which you are an expert, to the life of a friend you haven't seen face-to-face for many years, you're simply not making a reasonable comparison." In other words, you don't have enough information about this friend to evaluate how her life truly compares with yours.

Live in the now

Before you know it, your colicky, fussy-feeding newborn will be taking her first steps on the grass in your backyard. "Life tends to pass you by when you're living behind a phone screen, even if it's to take videos of your baby, so take a moment to breathe it all in and appreciate the little moments rather than going straight to social media," advises Dr. Hafeez.

Don't be afraid to ask for advice

Too often, the advice we receive as parents is of the unsolicited variety and it's often laced with anxiety and self-doubt. But, as new parents, it's essential that we feel encouraged, uplifted, and inspired in positive ways to make the best decisions when it comes to raising our children. "You're going to learn something new every day, but you don't have to figure everything out on your own," says Dr. Hafeez. For this reason, she encourages new moms to reach out to other moms on social media for advice—other new moms who might be going through the very same fussy stages or potty-training tribulations.

Remember that you're a role model, too

"Being a real new mom, (#notsponsored) is being who you are and sharing the good, the bad, the successes, and failures," Sullivan says. "It’s hard to put yourself out there day in and day out, but it’s important to relate to your audience. We are not perfect and we don’t intend for our Instagrams to look perfect either. We want to be your perfectly imperfect village."

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