I often hear stories from clients about how casual remarks from friends, family or strangers have disrupted their day or caused them to doubt themselves or the health of their pregnancy. Exercise discernment, and know that usually less is more.
1. Don’t ask if they are pregnant
Okay, I’ve broken this one with good friends who I know are trying - it’s so exciting! But in general, if you run into someone and they look a little big around the tummy or are declining drinks, sit with your curiosity and wait for them to tell you when they’re ready. There’s many reasons someone might not be ready to share the news - they might be waiting on results of genetic screening, or feel ambivalent about the pregnancy - or maybe just gained some weight! DO exercise patience and wait for their announcement.
2. Don’t comment on their appearance in detail
Saying “You look small”, “You look big”, “You’re starting to show”, “You’ve gained a lot of weight”, “You’re carrying high”, “You look like you’re about to pop” or “Do you have twins” often creates worry for the pregnant person and make them question the normalcy of their pregnancy. These are all unwelcome comments people have said to my clients. DO simply say “You look wonderful”.
3. Don’t give unsolicited advice
What worked for you or someone you know is not the solution for everyone. Also, when someone is really struggling with an ailment or discomfort, physical or otherwise, hearing your advice (that they’ve probably already tried, along with a zillion other things) is usually just frustrating. Remember that you’re not their care provider! DO trust that if someone wants advice, they will ask for it, or ask if they want advice before you give it and be willing to accept a “No”.
4. Don’t tell them your traumatic pregnancy or birth experience
Sharing negative experiences can heighten and compound any fear that may exist for them and is usually harmful. I counsel my clients to respond to the beginning of such stories with “I care about you and I want to hear your story but I need to take a raincheck until after the birth because I’m trying to keep things positive”. Don’t take it personally. DO find support for processing your own trauma with a therapist, others with a similar experience, and/or friends.
5. Don’t touch their belly without permission
I am shocked by the number of stories I still hear from my clients about people (and strangers!) feeling entitled to touch their pregnant bellies without even asking. Be judicious with who you ask - a stranger probably doesn’t want your hands on them and may feel obligated to say yes out of social nicety. DO express your appreciative joy at the new life they are bringing into the world.
6. Don’t ask if they’ve had the baby or are in labor yet
You can ask if they want to go see a movie, or if there’s anything they need, but the constant checking in only adds to any anxiety they might have about when the baby will come. The number one complaint I hear from clients who go past their due date is how much they are pestered by family and friends. They will tell you if they’ve had the baby when they are ready! DO give them space at the end of their pregnancy, except invitations for fun or offers of help.
7. Don’t comment on their eating or other prenatal choices
Again, you’re not their care provider, and it’s not your job to monitor or even note their food, beverage, or other life choices. Pregnant people are often judged for what they put into their bodies and how they exercise, sleep, etc. You can’t possibly know what is healthiest or best for them and their baby. DO approach their choices with curiosity and a willingness to learn if invited to listen.
8. Don’t assume that someone isn’t pregnant or is in good health
In the Bay, I have clients who have to take the subway regularly in early pregnancy and need a seat at that stage more than in mid-pregnancy when they may be feeling great. If someone asks for your seat on public transportation, unless you need it yourself, give it to them. There are also many auto-immune and other conditions that could cause someone to feel unwell even though they look healthy. DO act generously towards everyone, and keep in mind that someone could be pregnant even if you can’t see a baby bump.
9. Don’t ask if it’s a boy or a girl
If they have found out the sex of the baby, they will usually share it happily on their own if it is not a secret. If they haven’t found out, or don’t want to gender their baby, that question can be annoying. If you want to get them baby gear, buy something gender neutral. DO act excited to love on their baby no matter what.
10. Don’t ask closed questions that make assumptions
If you’re trying to connect, asking, “Are you excited for the birth” or “Are you scared” closes off avenues for them to share the full complexity and nuance of their emotional world. They may feel both excited and scared (and many other things as well) but you’re less likely to find out when you ask a leading question. DO ask open ended questions like “how are you feeling about the birth?” and genuinely be interested in hearing their answers.