5 Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Person

Pregnancy is one of the most remarkable experiences. It's also an invitation for folks (even strangers!) to offer unsolicited comments and advice. Mighty Mommy offers 5 suggestions for well-wishers who want to celebrate without crossing the line.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #628
The Quick And Dirty

Here are five great ways to celebrate the expecting moms in your life while respecting personal boundaries:

  1. Keep your questions rosy
  2. Nix unsolicited medical advice
  3. Don't be a busy-body
  4. Offer positive encouragement 
  5. Avoid social media hype

Growing a baby is miraculous, exciting, exhausting, and challenging. Pregnancy is a personal journey, but in our society it also becomes an open forum. For some reason, expectant moms are magnets for commentary, biased opinions, and even unsolicited touching.

Here are five tips for proper pregnancy etiquette:

Tip #1: Keep your questions rosy

After my five-year struggle with infertility, when I finally did become pregnant, I wanted the entire world to know. I was counting the days until I could burst out of my regular clothing and start wearing every maternity ensemble I could get my hands (and stomach!) on. 

No sooner did my big announcement start making the rounds, so did the litany of personal questions about my pregnancy. I soon realized that no topic was off-limits when it came to pregnancy. I consider myself an outgoing, kinda gal, but I also enjoy my privacy. How my breasts responded to my newly pregnant body was not something I wanted to discuss with my mother-in-law! That's why I love the advice from etiquette expert Thomas Farley, aka Mister Manners. He offered a simple rule of thumb to people tempted to press a woman about details of her pregnancy.

"Keep the questions rosy and not nosy." Unless the pregnant woman is a bestie or a close family member, it's best to focus on supportive, caring, and positive comments and questions. "How do you feel today?" is much rosier than "Wow, you look totally wiped out. Pregnancy doesn't agree with you!" 

Tip #2: If you're not a doctor, don't offer medical advice

Pregnancy is one of those topics that knows no boundaries. Why is a pregnant belly automatically permission for a stranger in the grocery store to offer medical advice? Why should the bank teller feel the need to tell me that my baby was in the breech position simply by the shape of my stomach? And then educate me on how I could help the baby flip to the correct position in the birth canal. Seriously?

In a perfect world, folks would refrain from offering medical opinions, particularly when they don't have a medical degree, but we all know there is no such thing as perfect. The next best thing is to choose how you interpret said advice. Here are some tips from the experts on how to handle unsolicited medical opinions:

  • Choose a tribe of trusted sources (your Ob/Gyn or midwife, a valued family member, a reliable medical website).
  • Read up on pregnancy. There are many informative books, such as one of my favorites, What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff.
  • Find a pregnancy mentor. Reach out to a friend or colleague that you admire who has already been pregnant. Ask them if you can be candid with questions about pregnancy.
  • Take unsolicited advice with a grain of salt. Realize the source and their good intentions and weed out anything that doesn't interest you.  

Why is a pregnant belly automatically permission for a stranger in the grocery store to offer medical advice?

Tip #3: Don't be a busy-body

A pregnant woman is indeed a fascinating subject, but she's also adjusting to this major life change all while on public display. (You can only hide your baby bump for so long!)

Regardless of how well you know the pregnant gal, there are plenty of intimate details she may prefer not sharing. Here is a handful of comments that are best left unsaid:

  • "Was your pregnancy planned?" (As a mother of eight, please don't go there.)
  • "You can't even tell that you're pregnant!" (Everyone carries differently. Don't comment on size, no matter what.)
  • "Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?" (A healthy baby is the goal.)
  • "Sleep now because you'll be sleep-deprived for years." (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)
  • "Do you have a name picked out yet?" (None of your business.)
  • "Are you going to breastfeed?" (What are you doing with your breasts?)
  • "How much time will you be taking off of work after delivery?" (You mean I have to go back to work?)
  • "Let me touch that belly!" (I'm not a petting zoo.)
  • "Are you sure you're only having one?" (Remember, never comment on size!)
  • "Are you having a natural birth?" (The doctor tells us our baby is not artificial.)
  • "Wait until the baby comes. No one's going to be doting on you anymore; the baby will be the star of the show." (That's fine with me, I can't wait to meet him/her.)
  • "When are you going to start trying for another one?" (And how's your sex life going?)  

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Tip #4: Offer positive encouragement

When you see a pregnant friend or family member, offer a sincere compliment. "Your skin is glowing today!" Focus on the positive, and you'll help keep her motivated about her upcoming role as mom. 

Don't stop there. Remember to keep any of your unpleasant stories to yourself. You may have had a 48-hour labor horror story, but sharing that with the other pregnant women in your doctor's waiting room is unnecessary (and cruel!).

Your first baby had colic? The pregnant woman in the produce department doesn't need to know about it. Instead, let her know that you think impending motherhood definitely agrees with her.

Keep in line with Tip #1 and support pregnant pals with rosy comments or say nothing at all.  

Tip #5: Be cautious of social media influencers 

My first babies were born in the early 1990s, well before cell phones, Google searches, and social media.  Today's pregnant mamas have an overwhelming excess of information and self-help forums to choose from. 

However, popular social media influencers can be misleading rather than helpful when it comes to medical advice. In the article "Pregnancy and Social Media: When Influencers Affect Health Decisions," obstetrician Dr. Horsager-Boehrer calls out some non-medical, for-profit organizations that are using Instagram and Facebook influencers to sell products that are not clinically proven and might be harmful to pregnant women.

Another article from Healthline.com also suggests that social media presents unrealistic expectations about what pregnancy and motherhood are really like. Molly Miller, a millennial mom-to-be, says, "I don't think it's realistic. A lot of times, it's celebrities posting about their pregnancies. I don't have a personal trainer; I don't have a chef at home making me all of these nutritious meals."

Use common sense when gravitating to star-laced social sites that are offering pregnancy advice. As exciting and enjoyable as scrolling your favorite social media platforms can be, check with your healthcare provider before believing everything you read.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.