Women in the United States love their social media. Whether it’s our curiosity to see how the other half lives, a motivation to exercise or eat healthier meals or even just to keep in touch with friends, nearly 80% of females use at least one social media platform daily.

But how often do we think about the effect that all of that media is having on our psyches? How it’s shaping our expectations of reality? Instead of turning us inward to draw on our own strengths, social media by its nature pulls our attention outward to whatever happens to be filling the screen in front of us, be it positive or negative. 

Pregnancy and postpartum can be a particularly tempting period to take to social media. For most women, these stages of life are new and strange, and they’re looking for real world examples against which to measure their own experiences. While at times helpful and encouraging, far too often it can be a dangerous path to travel down. 

Recently, a postpartum post from Instagram influencer Arielle Charnas (aka @somethingnavy), and the ensuing feud it sparked, highlighted the problem. The bikini picture, posted on her personal account, showcased an extremely fit and skinny Charnas, with the caption “Proud of my body after two babies.” Though Charnas has been vocal about having a C-section with her second birth, she shows no visible scarring in the picture. 

The post immediately sparked a reply from celebrity Amanda Seyfried, who challenged influencers like Charnas to be more transparent about the benefits of wealth and privilege in achieving such a postpartum body. Her post in turn was challenged by Charnas’ husband, whose all caps disclaimer on a picture he posted of his wife (beginning with ***WARNING***: THIS BODY IS NOT ATTAINABLE) clearly showed his opinion of Seyfried’s criticisms.

Both positions are sympathetic. Surely a woman has the right to be proud of her body without concerns that her choices could be triggering to others. And yet, the journey celebrities and “super influencers” are on is likely drastically different from what is possible or attainable for most women for so many reasons.

But sometimes it’s hard to remember those realities, especially in the extremely sensitive periods of pregnancy or postpartum, when a tiny human seems to have taken over your body and it no longer looks or feels like your own. 

Perhaps influencers should be taken to task for creating unrealistic expectations for their followers, but ultimately, we have no control over their choices. However, we do have control over our own. 

It’s time we stopped looking at the screen for inspiration and started looking within ourselves. The number one rule in motherhood? Listen to your body. It knows what you need better than any social media guru. Fill its brain with reliable resources from your doctor, give it a trustworthy partner like a sister or friend to hold it accountable, and let it speak to you.

Activity, not Exercise

A simple change in words can help you change a mindset. “Exercise” often calls to mind very particular things: weight lifting, jogging, going to the gym, etc.— particular things that might seem impossible with fatigue or morning sickness. Your body says, “no thanks.” 

Instead of narrowing your focus to “exercise,” start thinking in terms of “activity.” A gentle stretching routine can be enough to get your blood flowing, neck-rolls or leg lifts can be done right from the couch, and a sling or carrier for baby can make a walk with a friend just as easy as staying at home. Bonus: moving around can give you increased energy, so you may even find your fatigue vanishing!

Eating Right

Weight can become an obsession during pregnancy and postpartum: gaining on the front end and losing on the back end. It can be tempting to try to cut down weight by dieting — especially if you see others who seem to be managing their weight better. Do not fall prey to that temptation! Every woman carries her baby differently, and genetics plays a big part in that. 

Your body is preparing for, and recovering from, one of the most demanding things it will ever have to do — not to mention that it is also building a tiny human. Cutting out essential nutrients can be harmful for both you and baby, and leave you feeling fatigued and emotional. Plus, eating small meals constantly can help you cut down on nausea. So if your body says it’s hungry, feed it! 

That doesn’t mean that you should binge on junk food in the name of listening to your body, of course: avoid empty calories and overeating by keeping healthy snacks high in fiber and protein close at hand. 

Choose Your Audience

Comparing your bump or your postpartum recovery with others’ can be a slippery slope and should be avoided, but sometimes it can be empowering to share those milestones within an intimate and trusting community. If your friends and family ask for pictures, and you feel comfortable sharing, than let them walk your journey with you. You’ll be amazed at how inspiring  the affirmation will be — every pregnant woman should be told she’s glowing at least once a day!

Above all, know that every woman’s journey is different, and all that matters is how you are living out the best pregnancy and postpartum life for yourself and your baby.