Things You Should Never Say to a Pregnant Woman
Having a baby can be a joyous time in a mom's life. It can also be stressful, as parents go through the stages of pregnancy and prepare for their little one's arrival. That's why it's important to be respectful of women's privacy and emotions when they're pregnant.
"When you hear the news that someone is pregnant, you have to take the cues from them about how to respond," says Janelle Durham, co-author of the book “Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn” and a childbirth educator at Parent Trust, a nonprofit that offers classes for new parents. "But, if there are any clues that make you wonder whether this is totally good news, then you should tread more cautiously, saying something like, 'Wow, that’s really big news! How are you feeling about that?' And follow their lead from there."
Durham explained that it's important to "never assume that a pregnancy is simple, uncomplicated good news."
Here are things you should avoid saying to pregnant women.
Like a Balloon
Pregnant women aren't giant balloons, and babies don't pop out of their bodies. More importantly, a pregnant woman doesn't want anyone commenting on her size so avoid this comment and ones like it.
"Everyone’s abdominal muscles respond to expansion of the uterus in a different way. Commenting on size may make an individual feel self-conscious, guilty about weight gain," said Dr. Yolanda Evans, assistant professor in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital.
A mom-to-be will let you know if she's expecting twins, so you don't even have to worry about asking her.
Women get enough pressure from media to look a certain way, so the last thing they need is someone implying they've gotten too large while growing a human being inside of them.
Evans, who is pregnant with her third child and had heard all of the worst comments firsthand, also advises people not to make this comment to pregnant women.
"Commenting on size is rude," she said.
Commenting on Size...
It's a good general rule to never comment on anyone's size, shape, color, or any additional physical attributes. So just like you wouldn't comment on how large a pregnant woman is, you should also avoid mentioning her size if she is smaller.
Moms-to-be want to be healthy for their babies and commenting on their size might make them worry that they're too small for how far along they are in their pregnancy.
"Do not comment on size. Some people are very sensitive to this — perhaps a trigger for weight/body image issues," said Julia Lacy, a birth doula in Seattle. "Imagine a pregnant person who is so ill they cannot even hold down water/are being fed through a line. I promise you that this isn’t a comment that feels good to receive."
... Big or Small
Again, any phrase mentioning a pregnant woman's weight is off limits. If you wouldn't say the same sentence to a man, then don't say it to an expectant mom.
Emotions are running high for the mom-to-be, and she doesn't need to be triggered by your weight comments.
Telling the Future
Unless you are the pregnant woman's doctor, don't give unsolicited medical opinions.
If you don't know what to say, consider asking how she's feeling and if there's anything you can do for her during her pregnancy.
Reading the Bump
A woman has no control over how she is carrying the baby.
Don't make that process harder on her by commenting on her baby bump.
Not Your Business
If a pregnant woman wants to share the details of how she got pregnant with you, she will, but otherwise, don't ask because it isn't your business. Regardless if she planned to get pregnant or not, she is now, and she's sharing the news with you so stick with a simple "I hope you have a great pregnancy."
This comment brings us to another important topic: don't assume pregnancy.
"Maybe they’re going through excruciating fertility treatments that cause them to look pregnant, but they aren’t. Maybe they’re pregnant but had been expecting twins but recently found out one had passed," Lacy said. "Maybe they gave birth to a baby recently and still look pregnant, but either baby passed or was ill. Maybe they’re expecting a sick baby who may or may not live long. Commenting on an assumed pregnancy is dangerous territory for opening up Pandora’s box, which might be at worst very painful for the expecting parent and at best awkward."
Keep It to Yourself
Despite everyone talking about the pregnancy glow, plenty of moms never get it. Lots of moms have terrible morning sickness and insomnia. Some moms are nauseous for the duration of their pregnancy.
Moms-to-be can't control their bodies' natural reaction to pregnancy. So if they look exhausted, sick, or downright miserable keep it to yourself.
No Scary Sharing
Thanks to the internet there are countless first-hand accounts of everything that can go wrong during pregnancy, childbirth, and the days following labor.
So let moms-to-be read what they want to read. It isn't your job to make sure they know every terrifying thing that could happen during their childbearing process.
"Keep your trap shut about someone’s friend’s sister’s awful birth story. Or your own for that matter," Lacy said. "Akin to 'Oh you’re running a marathon? Let me tell you the worst stories I know about running said marathon when everyone almost died, and it hurt like heck, and it was awful! Good luck though!'"
Getting pregnant isn't like ordering something on Amazon Prime. Even when a couple is trying to conceive, they don't have control over when they'll get pregnant, which means they didn't have a say in the due date.
Don't make pregnant women feel bad because their baby is going to be born near a holiday or wedding.
Babies are born every day, and somehow we still manage to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
There are countless websites, blogs, and books dedicated to telling women what they can and can't eat and drink while pregnant. So they don't need you chiming in with your opinion on the matter.
Plus, maybe they're grabbing that Starbucks order for their husband who was up all night building baby furniture.
"Don’t give medical advice. Not needed! They have a care provider they picked out and hopefully trust to provide that. Pregnancy equals autonomy," Lacy said. "If you see a pregnant person sipping coffee, do not ask if it is caffeinated. It's none of your business."
Not a Funeral
Life doesn't stop when a new child joins the world. Sure, it changes their parents' lives forever in all of the best ways, but don't tell a pregnant woman she won't be able to do whatever activity she loves doing now that she's a mom.
Women raise kids, work jobs, contribute to their communities, and do countless other things simultaneously all the time. Celebrate and support them, but don't tell them they're life is over because they're having a baby.
Check All Judgements
It seems breastfeeding will always be a hot topic. Pregnant moms are going to discuss their options with their doctor, maybe read a few articles on the subject, and then do what is best for their family.
So they don't need your unsolicited opinion on the topic.
"Parenting plans: don’t discuss! Breastfeeding? Formula feeding? Not your business," Lacy said. "Parenting is hard, and it’s also every parent's own journey and not something to regale a pregnant person with."
Eating for Two
Whether you're dining with or cooking for a pregnant woman, do not comment on how much she ate.
Pregnant women are always hungry, and they don't need your commentary ruining their meal.
Moms-to-be are flush with hormones so don't ask them questions about population growth, politics, or global warming.
The last thing you want to do is stress a pregnant lady out and cause her to cry when she was trying to go about living her life.
Wait to Be Told
Any comment that assumes the person is pregnant before the individual has disclosed the information is a bad idea.
"In general, my advice is: only comment if someone mentions they’re pregnant/expecting. Don’t assume they are pregnant just by looking at them," Evans said. "If they tell you they are, offer an ‘I hope you have a healthy pregnancy’ or ‘I wish you all the best.’"
Hands to Yourself
And the most important phrase to ask goes hand-in-hand with the action pregnant women deal with the most: strangers wanting to touch their belly.
"Always, always ask before touching a belly. That belly belongs to the individual and is not public property (as tempting as it may be to touch)," Evans said. "A simple, ‘may I?’ is polite and if the individual declines, a ‘you look amazing’ is a nice compliment."
Commenting on Shape
In case anyone needs another reminder: don't make comments about people's bodies.
"Never utter the words 'get your body back,'" Lacy said. "Their body isn’t going anywhere. No need to get it back — it’s still around and doing a badass, powerful thing and earns every stretch mark and extra pound, or lack thereof."
This question is usually paired with the phrase "you're carrying high (or low)" because people think the placement of the baby can determine its gender.
But Evans reminds everyone to avoid both.
"The individual may have chosen not to know the natal sex," Evans said. "Plus commenting on someone’s body may make them uncomfortable."
Some families have several girl children, and some have several boy children.
If a person lets you know the natal sex of their child, do not follow it up with comments like, "Another girl/boy? Your poor partner! Are you going to try for a boy/girl (opposite sex)?"
Again, No Body Comments
Again, avoid commenting on a woman's body. There are just so many other things to talk about with people, and pregnant women are no different.
Whether they gained a little amount of weight or a lot, they will let you know if they want to talk about that topic.
One at a Time
It is safe to say that with all of the things a pregnant woman has going in during her pregnancy the last thing she wants to think about, let alone talk about, is how many more kids she might have in her lifetime.
Instead of asking a pregnant woman about future kids before her current has joined the world, ask her how her pregnancy is going.
No Parenting Advice at All
With all the advice on blogs, television shows, and in books, pregnant women don't need to hear your take on parenting methods, too. Instead of telling an expectant mom what to do instead consider asking her, "What are you most excited to do as a mom?"
Keep the conversation light and positive. "Don’t give parenting advice unless specifically asked," Lacy said.
In addition to all the research pregnant women do on their own, they also have doctors and medical professionals that will help them consider their various responsibilities as parents.
Oh, and, they're also human and have been parented at least once their lifetime, so it's safe to say they already have some thoughts on parenting.
"Pregnancy equals autonomy," Lacy added.
No Birth Plan Advice
Just like no two kids are exactly the same, no two births are exactly alike either. Pregnant women nowadays have a plethora of options for birthing plans, so there is no need to push a specific concept on the pregnant people in your life.
"For heaven's sakes don’t ask about a birth plan, don’t ask if they’re getting an epidural, planning a cesarean or having a home birth by candlelight," Lacy said.
Don't Overshare but Connect
"Do not burden a pregnant woman with your own traumatic birth story," said Kathleen Pape, a licensed mental health counselor.
Maybe your pregnancy was a breeze, but the recovery was traumatic. Still, it is best to keep all of the details to yourself.
"No woman needs to be frightened like that before an event that they cannot avoid," Pape said.
Don't lie, though. No one should feel pressured to lie to the pregnant people in their life. It is possible to be there for your friends without telling them the graphic details of the worst part of your pregnancy.
"With close friends, it is okay to reassure the pregnant that childbirth may be more painful than she imagines, or that it is okay to receive needed interventions, or that there is no way to predict how the delivery might go and that you love and support her no matter what happens," she said.
A good rule of thumb is that if you would not ask the question frequently, then you definitely shouldn't ask it just because the person is pregnant.
Pape explained it this way, "Do not ask anything personal about her experience or her body that you would not also ask similarly of a male acquaintance (e.g., digestive issues, sexual practices, weight changes)."
Let Them Cry
"Pregnant women cry. Let her," Pape said. "Don't think this is a bad sign, or a sign of weakness, or only hormones. You'd cry a lot too if you were holding part of the future of the human race in the core of your being."
In our current state of constant updates from countless social media platforms, it can seem odd if a pregnant woman isn't sharing much about her experience online or in person.
"Few people outside of the woman's immediate circle will know what she has been through to get pregnant or exactly how she feels about it," Pape said. "In fact, ambivalence is far more common in pregnant women than we might expect and is not a sign of pathology or an incapable mother."
While we are all entitled to have our own opinions about the various aspects of parenthood, we do not have a right to push said views on others.
We should be especially considerate of doing this to already pregnant people considering they have already chosen to have a baby at their age.
People change their minds all of the time so it shouldn't be shocking to anyone when a woman changes her mind about having a baby.
Perhaps your friend didn't want to have kids when she was in her early twenties and barely paying rent. Things change, and we should be there in positive ways for the pregnant people in our lives.
When in Doubt, Listen
If all of these helpful hints at what to say and what not to say are stressing you out, consider that a pregnant woman's primary focus is on her and her baby anyway.
So, you don't have to think of the perfect thing to say. You just have to avoid being rude and hurting people's opinions.
"A simple, 'How are you?' will suffice," Pape said. " As with most human events, the more one concentrates on patient listening, and less on what to say, the better."