The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman
Most nationalities have a reputation for being polite. But faced with a pregnant women, the most reserved person can often enter a twilight zone of manners where emotional intelligence and common sense are abandoned. It’s now okay to touch a pregnant woman’s bump without asking, remark about how big she is, and tell her exactly how knackered she looks.
Even after nearly a decade of working with pregnant women, I still find myself inwardly cringing as my mouth starts moving before my brain has been engaged, and I say something to a pregnant woman I then instantly regret.
So with this in mind, if a friend, family or co-worker is currently with child here is my guide to the top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman.
And if you are pregnant, use this guide to start planning your responses…
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 1 – Are you pregnant?
If you notice a co-worker isn’t drinking alcohol then the last thing you should ask loudly across an office is ‘are you up the duff?’ Miscarriage rate is high in the first three months, and so if she hasn’t told you she is pregnant then it’s because she doesn’t want you to know.
Miscarriage and stillbirths are unfortunately more common that we think. It’s heartbreaking to be asked ‘when are you due’ when you have lost your baby.
It is also awful to ask if someone is pregnant only to find out they are not… Many women not only struggle with their weight but also conditions which can cause them to look as if they are pregnant.
My friend Rachel told me – ‘this happened to me recently and I replied “I’m not pregnant. I’m just going through the menopause and a bit fat.” She was mortified but I was quite chilled about it. It was on the day of our One Earth festival. I was thinking I’ve just birthed a massive festival no wonder I look pregnant!’
In addition, after giving birth, the uterus takes time to return to its normal size, and any weight gained can be slow to shift. A few days after giving birth, my brother-in-law came around to meet our baby, took one look at me and asked ‘why do you still look pregnant?’ And my friend Claire was walking her newborn in the street and bumped into an old friend who asked her when she was due, even though she was pushing her baby in front of her…
The safest thing to say is nothing until you are told that they are pregnant, to which the best reply is ‘congratulations!’
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 2 – Any comment about the size of her bump
‘Wow! You’re so huge!’
‘Are you sure you aren’t having twins?’
‘Jeez, how many are you having?’
‘Gosh you’re enormous. Bet he’s going to be massive!’
‘Good luck getting that out. It’ll be like shitting a watermelon.’
‘Something that big will have to come out the sunroof.’
Above are some of the comments that pregnant women are subjected to on a daily basis. Even though it’s at number two on my list of the top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman, this is the biggest complaint pregnant women have after people who touch their bump without permission.
Any comment on the size of a bump, no matter how good the intention, will come out as a form of criticism. You’re either too big or too small, never just right. First time mums can often have smaller bumps than second time mums, bigger bumps can sometimes just indicate more amniotic fluid, and if a woman is really tall, then sometimes their bumps aren’t that noticeable.
Even making the point that a bump is ‘small’ or ‘neat’ can be extremely unwelcome as pregnant woman are often worried that their baby is growing properly. My friend lost her second child, and her third had IUGR (Intrauterine growth restriction). Even her midwife made the ultimate faux pas at an appointment:
‘I completely agree that the worst is any uninvited comment on the size of the bump. Yes, looking at you, midwife who said ‘you’ve got a really neat bump’, knowing my baby had IUGR…’
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 3 – The world’s over-populated enough. Why are you making the situation worse?
A comment such as this reminds me of something my husband often says to our daughter. ‘If you can’t think of anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.’ Despite a population decline across Europe (personally speaking, amongst my friends and family, the average number of children is less than one per couple), there is still a belief that the world is so overcrowded that we’ve run out of room and resources.
If someone does make this observation to you as a pregnant woman, then there are a number of options you could consider as a reply.
‘I’m carrying the second coming who will save the world.’
‘I’m carrying the next mass murdering dictator who will work diligently on population reduction.’
‘If you are worried about there being too many people on the planet, why don’t you show your commitment to your beliefs and remove yourself from the equation?’
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 4 – Why would you want to bring a baby into this world?
Despite living in the safest time in human history, our media is saturated with stories from around the world of human misery, suffering and depravity. No matter when you are pregnant, there is always something going on in the world to make you wonder what kind of a world you are bringing life into. And if you’re more pragmatic, then there’s always someone who can spread the doom and gloom for you.
If you have the presence of mind to reply, rather than looking in stunned shock with your mouth hanging open, here are some suggestions for a response.
‘I’m so sorry you view the world this way, I see it as a place of beauty, positivity and love.’
‘I’m carrying the next Mozart/ Marie Curie/ Ghandi/ Malala’
‘Well when you retire, there needs to be someone to pay your pension and wipe your bottom when you’re no longer able.’
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 5 – Aren’t you too young/old to be pregnant?
People are often incapable of guessing someone’s age. My friend Jane’s mum was so small and so young looking when she had her family of three, that she was always being asked if she wanted a half fare on the buses. When I spent six months in Indonesia aged 19, I was often asked if I was the mother of my friend Annette (also 19) who was a lot smaller than me.
Making a negative comment about age in relation to a pregnancy is only going to evince feelings of anger, worry and perhaps embarrassment and shame. It doesn’t help when our medical profession says that a woman over 35 is having a ‘geriatric pregnancy.’
And if you are subjected to this comment,, how about replying with ‘clearly not. Aren’t you too young/old to be so rude?’
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 6 – How are you going to cope?
‘The worst thing that could be said to me as I have three with a fourth on the way is probably ‘Oh. another one. How are you going to cope?’ You know, stuff along those lines as my eldest is seven. So yeah, it’s tough. I’m not perfect, but I don’t need it pointing out.’ Lesley.
Asking ‘how are you going to cope’ implies that the person pregnant is not a capable adult, merely an unprepared child with possible mental health issues.
Chances are that the pregnant woman is already dealing with being pregnant, running a household, maybe also parenting at least one small child, and probably also going out to work. They’re already coping remarkably well with feeling shitty, wiping shitty bottoms, and dealing with a shitty boss. Yes, sometimes they ,might go to bed thinking ‘I just can’t cope!’ But then they wake up the next morning, get out of bed and just get on with it.
If you ask ‘how are you going to cope?’ you’re actually saying ‘I don’t think I would be able to cope.’ The pregnant lady is already coping incredibly well and will continue to do so. And if they aren’t coping, the most helpful thing you could do is offer practical help.
If someone asks how you’re going to cope, then depending on how well you know the person, here are some suggested responses:
‘I think I’d cope better if you could bring around a few meals and help with laundry/cleaning/childcare.’
‘I’m considering methamphetamemes.’
‘I’ll continue to cope fine because I’m a frikking baddass super woman mofo.’
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 7 – Don’t you miss diving/ horse riding/ ski-ing/ insert activity the woman loves and is no longer allowed to do?
If you love your job but it’s a job that you can’t do when you’re pregnant, or are heavily invested in a sport that pregnancy precludes, then there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to do it, especially when you feel more than capable. I’ve taught pregnancy yoga to flight attendants, mounted police women, powerlifters, elite athletes and more, all of whom desperately wanted to be pregnant, but were sometimes climbing the walls because they couldn’t continue doing what they loved.
How about instead saying ‘I bet you’re excited about one day introducing your child to diving/ horse riding/ ski-ing/ insert activity the woman loves…’
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 8 – Let me tell you my horrific birth story!
No, no and thrice no. The LAST thing a pregnant woman wants to hear is how you nearly died giving birth to mini you. Hearing a minute by minute account of how your waters broke in the cheese aisle of Waitrose and ruined your most expensive shoes, and then how you spent a week of labour screaming for mercy before getting blue lighted to hospital, where the epidural went wrong and you were paralysed on only one side of your body, and then the ventouse slipped off the babies head, forceps wouldn’t work, they had to do an emergency c-section using a biro and a knife and fork from the canteen. Then how the baby was ‘whisked away’ to be resuscitated and you spent five hours in surgery getting stitched from fifth degree tears from the failed forceps and the c-section, and how your baby had a tongue tie and jaundice and you then got mastitis and your nipples fell off, is hardly the kind of story to make a pregnant woman feel excited about the normal, natural, and usually empowering experience of giving birth.
No wonder some women are terrified at the prospect of childbirth. I even know one woman who elected to have a c-section where she was completely unconscious because she was so freaked out at the thought of giving birth.
If your labour and birth, or someone’s you know were awful, keep it to yourself, or find a way to use a part of your story as a positive – ‘My labour was really long and challenging, but I found that by doing X, Y and Z, it passed really quickly and was much more manageable.’
And if your labour and birth were great, spread the good news!
One addendum to this is to encourage pregnant mums NOT to watch any reality or fiction show about giving birth. TV shows are there to entertain, not show you an hour of women quietly breathing and then popping out a baby…
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 9 – You’ll never be slim again, and say goodbye to your pelvic floor!
My friend Emily had just given birth to her daughter, and was at home, in the warm glow of her family. A midwife came to do a check up and told her cheerfully she’d ‘never see her pelvic floor again.’
Oh joy. You’re bringing life into the world and you’re being told that from now on, every time you laugh, sneeze or cough you’ll piss yourself.
Pregnancy is a time of huge changes to the body which can be strange, uncomfortable, and sometimes overwhelming. A pregnant woman needs to be told she is beautiful, not that she’s a heifer who will never see her feet again or fit back into her skinny jeans.
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: 10 – When is it due? Any news yet?
One of the worst dates there is in a pregnancy is the ‘due date’, also referred to as the EDD (estimated date of delivery). Note the word ‘estimated’. Due dates can be off by up to five weeks, and first time mums give birth an average of 10 DAYS AFTER the mythical ‘due date’.
Nothing is more profoundly irritating to a heavily pregnant woman, than a daily barrage of texts and calls from their nearest and dearest asking ‘have you had it yet?’ As if they somehow forgot to tell you they’d had a baby. The pregnant woman is usually desperate to meet her baby, often completely over being pregnant, and is currently eating hot curries, drinking gallons of raspberry leaf tea, bouncing for hours on a birthing ball and sticking pineapple up her vagina to try and make the baby arrive.
The top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman: Runners up
The last thing she needs is constant reminders that the baby hasn’t arrived yet. If you haven’t heard anything yet then there is no news!
And if my top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman isn’t enough, here are some runners up!
‘You’re pregnant again?! Again already?! So soon? Was it planned?’
There’s two fails here; the sin of expressing dismay at a pregnancy announcement, and the assumption that the pregnant lady doesn’t know how babies are made, and must have sat on the wrong toilet seat or phoned the stork to come drop off a baby when she’d really just meant to renew the house insurance.
‘What are you complaining about? You wanted to be pregnant! Deal with it.’
What a charming sentiment, variations of which have been heard by pregnant women all too often. Just because you desperately wanted to be pregnant, doesn’t mean you have to like the experience. I have friends who threw up repeatedly every single day of their pregnancies. Think about it. Nine months of up-chucking every few hours. At the beginning they were so bedridden they had to be on a drip. Their oesophagus became so raw from the constant stomach acid that it felt like razor blades every time they swallowed.
But hey, they should be so grateful to be pregnant, they shouldn’t ever complain!
‘Just you wait until the birth/ you never sleep again/ the toddler years/ they’re a teenager.’
This is usually said with relish, as if they can’t wait for you to have a really difficult time of every aspect of bringing life into the world and parenting.
‘Your baby is a parasite.’ – this was said to me when I was pregnant.
‘You’re super crazy and hormonal right now.’
Thanks Dr Not-a-Doctor for that massively helpful comment, which is not going to help damp down my desire to disembowel you with the bread knife. Pregnant women are still rational beings, and are allowed to be in a bad mood. Always consider the fact that you could just be being a dick, but that now she’s growing a human, she doesn’t have the same degree of tolerance for your behaviour.
‘You look so tired.’ – Funny that. You try growing a baby whilst also holding down a job and a home and being expected to worry about looking good.
‘Aren’t you really worried that more than 1 in 50 babies are born with a birth defect or disability, and even today, 6 out of a thousand are stillborn. Could happen to anyone. Terrifying, isn’t it?’ – Just NO…
‘I bet your baby is the next Nigel Farage.’ – This may be seen as a good thing by some pregnant women…
‘It doesn’t get any easier. Don’t worry, in 18 years you’ll have some freedom back.’ – I forgot how children are trained to imprison their parents and only give them the key to their cell when they turn 18.
And finally, courtesy of my husband’s grandmother – ‘Oh no… Kids ruin your life.’ – said to my mother-in-law when she announced she was pregnant with her first child (my husband).
So there we go, your handy guide to my top 10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman. Next up, what you should DEFINITELY say to a pregnant woman!