How To Talk To Pregnant Women (or, everybody just relax)

10 Sep

I don’t know what’s in the water these days, but it seems like a ton of my friends are having babies this year. I’ve been to three baby showers in the past two weeks alone.

Of course, since I am a super self-involved person, all of this baby time has brought me back to those oh-so-special days when I was gestating Theo. Watching my friends get advice from other friends and acquaintances (and sometimes total strangers) has reminded me of the things that I found super unhelpful to hear while pregnant, and  also the things I actually found helpful.

So! I’ve made this useful little guide for you!

First of all, let’s start out with the basics:

1. DON’T: assume someone is pregnant, unless they actually, like, TELL YOU THEY ARE PREGNANT.

I know that this one seems obvious, but, sadly, it still needs to be said.


(A brief anecdote: the first time I went out without Theo was about a week after he was born. I went to a fancy baby store to buy a fancy nursing bra. I was trying to figure out my size when the clerk helpfully told me that my chest would be bigger once I had the baby and my milk came in.

If you ever want to see a woman who is recently postpartum cry horrible hormonal tears in public, please go ahead and ask her when the baby is due. It makes her feel really great!)

2. DON’T: talk about how huge your friend’s belly is.

Some women probably (maybe?) like this, but definitely not all of them. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to be sure which category someone falls into until you actually say it, so it’s best just to keep your mouth shut.

DO: tell her how beautiful and glowing she looks. Basically every woman loves to hear this. I know, I know, a while ago I was all, try not to give people appearance-based compliments, but I think pregnancy might be the exception to that rule.

3. DON’T: tell her, Wait until the baby comes! You will feel so differently about everything! 

While this is probably true (although maybe not – everyone’s experience varies), it is super annoying to hear. Also, it’s totally unhelpful – it’s really the kind of thing every parent has to figure out for themselves.

DO: share your experiences of what your expectations were like while pregnant, and how things were different once you had the baby. It’s helpful to hear stories about specific things that people have gone through, and it’s much better to hear it phrased as here’s how I felt rather than here’s how you will feel.

4. DON’T: tell someone how bad worrying is for the baby.

I heard this a lot whenever I tried to communicate my pregnancy-related anxieties to people. I found it really unhelpful because, while I understand that what these people were trying to do was get me to relax, what they were actually doing was give me one more thing to worry about . Like, great, I’ve still got all these other things I was feeling anxious over, and now I have to worry about whether all this anxiety is hurting the baby. DOUBLE WHAMMY.

DO: ask your friend about specific anxieties they are having, and, if possible, talk them through. If you have something from your own experience that you can relate this to, that is super helpful! If their anxieties seem overwhelming or debilitating, suggest that they talk to their doctor. Above all, remind them that being anxious while pregnant is very, very common.

5. DON’T: talk about how figuratively shitty everything will be once the baby comes.

It’s true that things will be super nuts once the baby comes! But chances are your friend already knows that, and doesn’t need to be told to get in all their sleep/having fun/quiet alone time before they pop. Also they are probably happy that they’re going to have a kid, so it’s not really cool to make them feel as if they’re making a huge mistake. They’ll have plenty of time to figure that out on their own (kidding, kidding).

DO: tell them how literally shitty everything will be. I feel like the copious amounts of poop my offspring produced was a huge surprise to both of us, especially Matt. I remember him looking at the meconium and saying, it’s like a jet of concentrated evil coming out of his backside.

6. DON’T: tell pregnancy horror stories.

No pregnant woman wants to hear about all the terrible, horrible things that could possibly go wrong while the bun is still in the oven. Sure, some people enjoy hearing these kinds of gruesome tales, but there is a time and a place for everything. Talking to your knocked-up friends is neither of those.

DO: try to keep things positive.

If the desire to tell scary stories comes up as the result of a pregnant woman confiding in you about a specific issue she’s having, please, please don’t tell her that a friend of a friend experienced exactly the same thing with tragic consequences. Try to keep in mind that it’s pretty unlikely that you’re a medical doctor (and if you are, you should be dispensing medical advice, not anecdotes), and b) you’re almost definitely not this specific person’s doctor. Instead of scaring your friend, reassure her that everything is likely fine, while at the same time urging her to talk to her doctor or call the hospital.

7. DON’T: go on and on about how happy your pregnant friend must be, or else say things like, gee, you don’t seem very excited about this baby.

DO: keep in mind that pregnancy can be an emotionally conflicting time for a lot of women. Many people find pregnancy to be traumatic for all kinds of reasons, ranging from  body image issues to past complications or losses.

Just offer a warm congratulations, and then follow your friend’s lead. Making them feel like they should be happier than they are can add an extra layer of guilt onto what might already be a complicated situation.

8. DON’T: be judgmental or rude about parenting choices.

This goes for everything from formula feeding or hospital births to co-sleeping or having a round-the-clock nanny.

Here’s the thing: you don’t know what in this person’s life has lead them to this decision. Sure, maybe it’s a decision you wouldn’t have made, and maybe it’s something that you disagree with – but as long as they plan to keep their child safe, warm, happy and fed (and chances are that they do), then it’s none of your business.

DO: offer advice and resources if the person seems open to it. Tell them about your own experiences if they want to hear about it. If not, just bite your tongue, and keep in mind that things change so dramatically with the arrival of a new baby that many of your friend’s plans will probably end up flying out the window anyway.

9. DON’T: just flat-out contradict someone if they say something that you know is wrong or inaccurate.

Honestly? This will just make them feel stupid and maybe a little defensive.

DO: explain to them why it’s wrong and offer information and resources to back your claim up.

For example, I had a friend who was told that if the baby only nursed on one side per feeding, she should pump the other breast once the feeding was done so that she didn’t get mastitis. I explained to her that up until about six weeks, milk production is hormonally driven, but after that point it becomes supply and demand. If you are nursing your baby AND pumping, then you are signalling to your body to produce more milk. This is fine if you want to keep frozen milk on hand for a babysitter, or for when you return to work, but it’s not necessary if you’re feeding on demand, and definitely won’t prevent mastitis.

I also told her that she should do whatever she feels comfortable doing, and that she’ll figure out what works best for her once the time comes (this sentence in particular is key).

Also, keep in mind that there is a study to back up just about everything, so your friend might already feel like they are well-educated on whatever it is you’re talking about. If they aren’t interested in what you have to say, then maybe just let this one slide. Pick your battles.

For example, if a person has decided after a lot of research that they think it’s best for the baby to dangle out a second-storey window from a Jolly Jumper harness, that argument is definitely worth pursuing. If it’s something more minor, just let it go.

10. DON’T: stick to only pregnancy and baby-related topics.

Seriously, this gets really annoying. When I was pregnant, there were days when I felt like I was nothing more than a gestating uterus on legs. It’s not that I never wanted to talk about pregnancy and babies (because I totally did!), just that that wasn’t all I wanted to talk about. Sometimes I wanted to feel like a smart human being with a smart human brain who thought about smart human things.

DO: keep in mind that your friends are people first, and pregnant ladies second. Try talking about a range of subjects, including but not limited to: books, movies, food, deep philosophical thoughts, Shakespeare’s plays, why Richard III maybe wasn’t such a bad guy, the weather, interior decorating, Wes Anderson films, why Wes Anderson should make a film about Richard III, etc.

Now go forth and converse like a normal human being with your pregnant friends!

Also, feel free to add suggestions for additions to this list in the comments.

“Hmmmm I’m feeling a little TOO content with my pregnancy. I wish someone would say something SUPER JUDGMENTAL to me right now.”

11 Responses to “How To Talk To Pregnant Women (or, everybody just relax)”

  1. MamaToBean September 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    Reblogged this on Mama To Bean and commented:
    I had to reblog this smart and sassy piece of writing. I experienced some of it too! Enjoy!

  2. Sara Hanna September 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    I too seem to have many pregnant friends this year! 4 at least that I can think of. And I agree with so many points on your list!

    One of the biggest things I’d like to add to the list is touching a pregnant woman’s belly. I’m sorry, maybe some people like it, but I didn’t. An occasional gentle rub or something, meh, that’s ok. But having to touch my stomach EVERY FUCKING TIME that you see me, and refusing to move your hand until you feel my child kicking, IS NOT COOL. I don’t care if you’re family (his). I don’t care if you’re over-sensitive and would take it the wrong way if I ask you nicely not to touch my belly. It’s my body, and I’m not ok with it. It made me extremely uncomfortable, and my husband would never listen to me and say anything to them (and I was afraid to, because any time I tried to say anything, his mother flew off the handle about EVERYTHING and then somehow I ended up being the one to apologize!). Obviously, I’m still harboring bitter feelings about that, heh.

    But yeah, don’t touch a pregnant woman’s body without asking. You wouldn’t walk up to a random, non-pregnant person, and start rubbing her belly, would you? (if you answered “Yes”, then you have other serious problems that should probably be addressed separately). If you ask and she says no, RESPECT HER WISHES.

    /end rant

    • bellejarblog September 12, 2012 at 2:31 am #

      Yeah, good point! I was one of the weirdos who didn’t mind the belly touching, but then again not many people tried it with me. Certainly no total strangers.

      That’s so shitty that you had to go through that with your family :/

  3. allison September 10, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    Dude almost the exact same thing happened to me when I was buying a nursing bra post-partum! She asked me when my baby was due or something like that. I’m like, um she’s over there. You would really think that someone working in a maternity store would have a bit more sense?

    • bellejarblog September 12, 2012 at 2:34 am #

      I thought so too! I was like, uh, isn’t it your job to sell things to pregnant ladies? Wouldn’t it help you greatly in your job not to offend said pregnant ladies?

  4. empressnasigoreng September 11, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    6. Could be expanded to birth stories as well. A young pregnant colleague (1st baby) was complaining to me about this the other day and also the fact that these women could talk about nothing else but babies and motherhood. I referred her to STFU parents for a laugh. 🙂 Can also relate to no 1. I was still getting this from time to time when my youngest was about 8yo. Talk about ruining a day!

    • bellejarblog September 12, 2012 at 2:35 am #

      Oh man, yes!

      A woman I worked with (who was seriously the most negative person ever) had a lovely story to tell me when I told her I was giving birth at Mount Sinai. Apparently someone she knew gave birth there (about a billion years ago) and they took too long with medical interventions and the baby died. That was definitely a story I wanted to hear!

  5. Sara Lanthier September 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    AWESOME LIST. Every freaking adult on the planet should read this. How about Don’t say how you’ll fall in love with the baby instantly. You’ll make those of us who took a while to get into the whole thang really shitty.

    • bellejarblog September 19, 2012 at 3:07 am #

      YES. That is a really good one!

      I felt totally, insanely protective of Theo starting from the moment he was born, but that was more like a “mother bear” love (as my friend calls it). I didn’t fall in love with him as a person until later, once he actually started developing an actual personality.

  6. Ebenezer Scrooge December 8, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    2 year community colleges now offer programs into law school–did you know? But that’s only if you really want to do law. Although I don’t know why anyone would want to do law back when the economy was so bad–but now things are probably better.

    There’s nothing wrong with not attending college if not just the social stigmas…although I would have to say education is worthwhile and rewarding and higher education can lift you out of depression (psychology).

    Genetic counseling is an up and coming field as well, I think, although the job prospect rate is not high.

    I would say get your health in check first…and once that’s more stabilized, then one can think about going back to school and handling the courses. It’s never too late for anyone. =)

  7. Ebenezer Scrooge December 8, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

    Oops I just accidentally left that comment on this blog entry, but you get the gist of what I’m talking about.

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