Experts or influencers: new parents turning to social for midwifery advice

28 February 2023

CQUniversity has conducted research on the impacts that engaging with social media influencers and bloggers has on expectant parents.

Published in the British Journal of Midwifery, the study titled Midwifery care and social media, finds that while influencers and their online communities are potential sources of information and support, consideration must be given to the potential for harm to be suffered by pregnant and early parents because of engagement with influencers.

Lead author Associate Lecturer in midwifery Rachelle Chee said pregnant and new parents are increasingly engaging with social media.

“It is difficult to ignore the growing utilisation of social media by parents and persons of childbearing age to share opinions and aspects of everyday life with friends, family, and complete strangers,” Chee explained.

“My own experience of using social media has allowed me to observe others’ largely unrestricted sharing of pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences with many members of the public who they would otherwise be unlikely to engage with,” she said.

Co-authored by fellow CQUniversity academics Tanya Capper and Olav Muurlink, the research found that while pregnant and new parents did gain a sense of empowerment by accessing the diverse range of information from the internet, there was also a risk that many of these sources either lacked scientific rigour or were biased.

“As a midwife and mother of two young children, I find the topic interesting because it is becoming clear through conversations with midwifery colleagues in the hospital, and through interactions with consumers of maternity care in the hospital, that new and expectant mothers are frequently gathering information and constructing opinions about pregnancy and birth experience from the content they access via social media.

“This becomes particularly problematic for midwives when obtaining true informed consent to maternity care and when supporting women and their families to make decisions that may impact the health and wellbeing of mother and baby.”

Chee said this posed a significant challenge in providing woman-centred care.

“This can be challenging for midwives who have mostly trained and worked in mainstream maternity care, in which biomedical views of pregnancy and childbirth continue to dominate practice,” Chee explained.

“Women who are more diversely informed beyond the realm of the biomedical pregnancy and childbirth experience may make choices about their pregnancy and birth which do not align with mainstream care pathways. Woman-centred care means that midwives must respect the woman’s right to self-determination, however this can be both personally and professionally challenging for midwives who are accustomed to providing the ‘usual’ mainstream care.”

A secondary paper titled The impact of social media influencers on pregnancy, birth, and early parenting experiences: A systematic review was published this week with the trio planning to undertake further research.

“Tanya, Olav and I are currently collaborating on a research project which explores Australian women’s experiences of engaging with social media influencers who post pregnancy, birth and parenting content,” Chee said.

“This project is currently in the data-collection phase.”