Let’s talk about talking to a pregnant woman.
When we interact with pregnant friends, family, co-workers, or acquaintances, many of us are excited for the person and eager to offer advice and wisdom. But some of the most common things we end up saying actually really annoy or bother the pregnant woman on the receiving end.
My patients often express frustration at the constant stream of opinions they hear on a daily basis. For those of you who want to improve your relationship with the pregnant women in your life, here are six things to avoid saying!
1. “You look like…”
Whether intentionally or not, a lot of the expressions people use around pregnant women reference weight gain. Many women already feel insecure about the way they look while pregnant without being constantly reminded they’ve changed. Saying something that directly or indirectly comments on her weight can make a woman feel less confident or, worse, worried something is wrong.
Examples to avoid include:
- You look like you’re carrying twins! You probably have no idea whether this woman is carrying twins or not. This comment, especially when said to a woman carrying one child, makes her feel particularly bad.
- You look like you’re about to have a baby! If she is not due for a long time, this may make her feel disheartened that she already looks big enough to be full term.
And, perhaps the most common:
You look like you’re ready to pop! My patients hear this one all the time. And they hate it. It’s crass and implies she has become a giant balloon.
Other statements related to a woman’s weight are just as unwelcome. Saying “it’s so easy to tell you’re pregnant because you started out really small” is certainly not meant as an insult but implies she used to be small and isn’t anymore.
Another common phrase is “you’re just all baby!” This not only implies she’s gotten really big but also reduces her identity down to her pregnancy. She is still the same person she was before and wants to be acknowledged as such.
Lest we appear rude or insensitive, most of us would never comment on a woman’s weight if she weren’t pregnant. The same rule should apply for women who are pregnant!
2. “Can I touch your belly?”
Unless you’re talking to your spouse or close friend, it is never OK to ask a pregnant woman if you can touch her abdomen.
Even worse, don’t touch her stomach without asking permission. You would not believe how often my patients say this happens to them!
It’s also not OK to ask, “Is the baby kicking?” She may not have started to feel the baby kick yet, and that might be totally normal. But being asked this kind of question might make her worry something is wrong.
The exception to this rule is for spouses and significant others. In this situation, asking whether she has felt the baby kick or move yet and, if so, expressing interest in feeling the baby move, is both thoughtful and welcome. She will probably want to involve you in this experience and be glad you want to be involved as well.
3. Unsolicited parenting advice
Unless she asks, it is never a good idea to offer a pregnant woman parenting advice.
You may not know the circumstances of that family and pregnancy. In my practice, we deal with high-risk pregnancies that involve either a sick mom or a sick baby. Some of our patients know they may not be able to take this baby home with them. For these women, receiving parenting advice can be really emotional and difficult.
For similar reasons, resist the urge to tell unsolicited stories about your pregnancy experiences. Bad stories might make her worry about things she had never thought to worry about before – and she is probably already worrying about plenty!
Even good stories shouldn’t be shared unless she asks. If this woman is preparing for a really complicated delivery, it may be more hurtful than helpful to hear about your beautiful birth experience.
If she asks, by all means share away! But let her come to you.
4. “Are you sure it’s the real thing?”
This one is for spouses and significant others. Never ask “are you sure it’s the real thing?” when your pregnant partner complains of contractions or thinks she may be going into labor. She’s definitely not sure! Honestly, no one knows whether it is labor or not until you get to the hospital.
It might be frustrating to repeatedly get up in the middle of the night to drive to the hospital for what turns out to be a false alarm. This is not uncommon, especially for women in their first pregnancy. But you don’t want to make her doubt how she’s feeling by expressing this annoyance. One of these times it is going to be the real thing and you are going to want her to speak up!
5. “Are you sure everything is OK?”
Often times family members will ask “are you sure everything is OK?” or “have you checked with your doctor that everything is OK?” if a woman is nearing her due date or hasn’t “dropped” yet.
These are not helpful questions to ask and may just make her worry more. Believe me, if she is nearing her due date she is getting very uncomfortable and has probably already talked to her doctor about it!
6. “Is it a boy or a girl?”
I know – this is the most common question to ask! And I wouldn’t say you have to avoid it entirely. But some families deliberately aren’t finding out the baby’s sex and it might be annoying to explain why for the 50th time. And, for babies with complicated problems, this question is not the most important issue that family is facing.
A more appropriate question would be “are you finding out the gender?” This shows your sensitivity to the situation and allows her to tell you the gender or answer with a simple “no.”
What TO say
At this point, you are probably wondering what CAN I say to someone who is pregnant?
Telling a pregnant woman “you look really great” and “congratulations” is always welcome. You can also ask “how are you feeling?” because then she can share as much or as little as she likes about her experience.
Spouses, significant others, and close family members can (and should) also ask her whether she is comfortable, whether you can do anything for her, or if she needs anything. If she is struggling with something in particular, like reflux, try to find a solution by asking her what might be easier on her stomach for dinner.
If you avoid the six types of phrases above, you’re sure to make the pregnant women in your life feel valued, special, and secure!
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