- TikTokers said being pregnant can massively grow your following, but at a cost.
- Three women told Insider they are flooded with hateful comments and unsolicited advice.
- The constant negativity has had a huge impact on their mental health, they said.
“She isn’t kicking. Why hasn’t she kicked?” Sarati Callahan, who is 32 weeks pregnant, finds herself asking this question several times a day, due to relentless comments she receives on TikTok from people who tell her they think her baby’s going to die.
Callahan is a fitness influencer with 10 million followers on TikTok, where she announced her pregnancy in October 2021. But like many prominent online figures, Callahan’s pregnancy experience has been plagued by comments that criticize her choices.
Pregnant influencers told Insider that sharing their lives on social media — especially TikTok — has exposed them to unprecedented amounts of hate from people who don’t appear to be pregnancy experts, but who nonetheless offer unsolicited advice and criticism that create huge amounts of stress for them.
Pregnant influencers say the negativity they receive online can have a huge impact on their mental health
Abbie Herbert, 25, has 11 million TikTok followers with whom she shared her pregnancy journey before giving birth in May 2021.
Herbert said the most “terrible” comments she receives on her videos are sometimes only one word long, from people who watch clips of her exercising, and comment, “miscarriage.”
“These kids just throw that word out like it’s nothing, but anything can happen during a pregnancy,” Herbert said, adding that she was “discouraged” and made to feel like she was “doing something wrong,” when in reality, moderate exercise can be beneficial during pregnancy.
Herbert, Callahan, and Bella Retamosa, a 22-year-old TikToker with 5 million followers, all posted TikToks taking part in physical challenges while pregnant. They said they would receive comments suggesting they would injure or even kill their babies from doing the challenges, making them feel “paranoid” to the point where they wouldn’t want to read their comments anymore.
For taking part in a short TikTok challenge where she sucked in her pregnant belly to appear flat, Callahan received hundreds of comments saying things like, “your baby’s gonna die,” even though experts say the challenge is largely harmless.
As a result, Callahan told Insider she struggles to sleep at night because negative comments have “taken over” her life. She has also consulted with her doctor about the anxiety this has caused her.
Navit Schechter, a cognitive-behavioral therapist who works with parents and pregnant people, said online hate can cause anxiety and stress because “the brain interprets these messages in the same way as it would when being attacked in real life.” She added that for a pregnant person, this can create harmful effects that might impact the growing fetus like
or sleep loss.
TikTok is perceived as one of the worst platforms for people subjected to this kind of trolling
The three women all told Insider that they find TikTok to be the platform where they see the highest volume of distressing comments. Herbert said she believes this is because the algorithm shows her content to people who don’t follow her.
“It’s reaching an audience that doesn’t know you or care about you, so the comments can be very disturbing and disgusting,” Herbert said, adding that Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts — which work in a similar way — also have a high number of negative comments.
A spokesperson for TikTok told Insider, “Our priority is to foster a safe and inclusive environment where people can express themselves authentically without fear of abuse,” adding that they give users a range of tools to help them manage comments, like “choosing who can comment on their content” and “easy-to-use in-app reporting.”
Herbert, Retamosa, and Callahan all use a TikTok feature that allows them to remove any comments that contain certain words, such as “die” and “miscarriage.” However, Callahan told Insider this can make things worse, because the comments are still visible to the account owner, and creators have to look at each individual comment in order to delete them or block the account.
“It takes hours to go through and moderate those comments when I wish I just didn’t have to see them at all,” she said.
Being a public figure means that commenters feel a sense of ownership over them, the influencers said
Callahan told Insider she often receives criticism from people who “think they’re pregnancy experts” because they’ve been pregnant before. “But they haven’t lived in my body. Every single pregnancy is different.” she said.
A 2017 study conducted by researchers at Cardiff University in Wales found that women who are pregnant often feel they are “under surveillance” because they receive unsolicited advice from family and friends.
The study suggested that advising people on what they can eat and do while pregnant becomes a form of “policing women’s bodies,” leading to “negative impacts on their self-esteem.”
When these opinions are negative, they can become overbearing, Herbert told Insider. “Because I’ve opened myself up online, people think ‘I’m friends with her. So I can tell her what I think.’ They tell me not to do things in videos all the time as if I’m not allowed to do any physical activity.”
Harmful comments are seen as one of the costs of being an influencer
Overall, the women acknowledged that negative comments typically go hand-in-hand with a large following, and being pregnant on social media can often help grow an audience even more. Callahan and Retamosa told Insider they gained 100,000 and a million TikTok followers respectively over the course of their pregnancies.
But the larger their following grows, the more hateful comments they receive, even now that some of them are no longer pregnant. Herbert and Retamosa both said viewers constantly criticize them for their parenting.
Herbert told Insider that ultimately, she’s glad she decided to document her pregnancy on social media. “I have all these memories to look back on now. We’re very blessed that we were able to have a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby and that we can share these moments with the world.”
Callahan said that online fame trains you to “pick what you want to hear” from the comments, adding, “I choose to hear the positive. That’s why I’m still on social media. Otherwise, I’d be out.”
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.