We’ve all heard of body-shaming, especially when we’re referring to woman-to-woman criticism. You know who are particularly vulnerable to off-the-cuff body comments? Pregnant women. You may not even know that you’re doing it, but it happens all of the time. I’ll admit, I’ve accidentally said some embarrassing things to pregnant women in the past as well. Since this is my third go-around, I’ve become immune to all types of comments about my body and it barely phases me anymore. I usually laugh it off or find some witty retort to make them feel equally as uncomfortable, and I’m sure there are other moms that take it all with a grain of salt as well. However, I know a lot of moms who have been the on the receiving end of really hurtful and straight-up rude comments while pregnant. I wanted to shed some light on pregnancy body-shaming and a bit of preggo-talk etiquette that some people could benefit from knowing. Hopefully we can become more aware of how these seemingly well-intended thoughts may be perceived by the mama-to-be.
First off, if you don’t really know the person well and wouldn’t normally talk about her appearance as a friend, this is not the time to start. I understand it can be a great conversation piece, but it’s definitely awkward when coming from a stranger. Secondly, your judgement of whether her belly size matches with her gestational age is usually not a compliment, but rather an unnecessarily verbalized observation. Saying, “wow you’re so small for __ weeks” or “I can barely tell you’re pregnant” may upset a first-time mom who has become so proud of her tiny, yet expanding, belly. The first trimester is when she starts retaining more fluid and may look more bloated than pregnant. Most of the time I felt like I just looked like I binged on 10 hamburgers and a shake rather than carrying a 12 week human. Also, you don’t know what journey this woman has been through to get to this stage. Maybe she’s battled infertility or miscarriages for months/years. This could be the miracle that she’s waited for and wants the world to know, not matter how small the bump. Maybe she’s naturally thin and the smallest pooch is confirmation that a baby is really there. So tread lightly with anything around “You don’t even LOOK pregnant”.
This is usually the stage when most moms start “showing” the more definitive bump that no longer looks like extra padding. (However, if it’s not their first, they may start showing earlier). In reference to the shape of the belly, some women carry high, low, narrow or wide…. and it can vary with every pregnancy for the same woman Their bellies are growing steadily, but they may start to carry the weight in other areas as well, such as their arms, breasts, face, butt and legs. I remember when I was pregnant with my first, a few co-workers (whom I almost never spoke to) said “I can see it in your face”,”your nose is definitely getting wider” or “I can tell your a** is getting bigger”. The Good Lord made me bite my tongue to not reply “so is yours and you aren’t even pregnant”.
She’s getting down to the wire, in the homestretch, but also probably feeling like a beached whale. She’s probably tired, swollen, uncomfortable and counting down the days. There are a few women that feel beautiful at this stage and really embrace the added weight, especially if it is a miracle they’ve been waiting for or if they’ve stayed active the whole pregnancy. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to assume that she’s in an emotionally delicate stage and may be much more sensitive to body comments.
Saying, “You’re HUGE!!” or “Are you sure you’re not carrying twins?” can seem like an innocent joke, but could make a mom feel self-conscious of her growing weight. Either way, they have no control over how their body will change and where the weight will be distributed. Some women gain 20 lbs, some gain 45+, and it even varies between pregnancy with the same woman. My first pregnancy I gained 45 lbs, second was around 40 and for this one I’m only at 33ish so far. And guess what? All of them were healthy.
It’s bad enough that we judge each other’s appearance at baseline. But when a woman is carrying a growing fetus for 9 months, they should be exempt from this type of unsolicited feedback. Think carefully about your words. Think about the struggles this woman might be going through during this exciting but emotionally delicate time. Pregnancy is a blessing, but also really challenging, and self-image issues should not be one of them. Switching up your vocabulary could mean the difference between a back-handed compliment and genuine words of encouragement. When in doubt, stick with “You look great/beautiful!” or “Your bump is adorable” PERIOD. Every mom loves to hear those ones 🙂