I’m not saying I always say the perfect things, but as a trained doula and childbirth educator, I am a lot more careful with my words now, especially surrounding pregnant and postpartum women. There was a time, however, when I myself said some pretty atrocious things to pregnant and postpartum women. Some of these things are insensitive, but others are just downright rude. I understand that some women may not be offended or care if any of these things are said, but there are a good number who can be very hurt by these words. Let’s discuss:
Things you Should Never Say to a Pregnant (or Postpartum) Woman
Maternity Robe Courtesy of Pink Blush
“Was this Planned?”
You’re just told the big news: “I’m PREGNANT!”
Maybe you congratulate her and give her a hug, but one of your first comments to her is “oh wow! Was this planned?” Let me explain to you why you should never ever, under any circumstance ask this question:
- It’s rude, and quite honestly, none of your business. Plus, it’s kind of awkward to talk about for a lot of people. Chances are, if it was planned and she wanted you to know that, you would have been in the loop since the beginning.
- 1 in 8 couples suffer from infertility. You know someone who has suffered some sort of infertility, I guarantee it. Some people are very vocal with their struggles, while others decide to keep them completely private. Asking this invasive question may open up a can of worms that she doesn’t want to get into right now.
- Also, sometimes it just happens.
“Are you going to try for a boy/girl next?”
I actually caught myself saying a derivative of this recently and as soon as it left my mouth I felt so embarrassed. Assuming someone isn’t happy with the gender child(ren) she has is pretty forward. Once again, their family planning is none of your business, regardless of the “reason”.
Many people do try “one more time” for a specific gender, and that’s totally fine… asking about it is not.
“You know you don’t get a medal for that.” (i.e.: Going Unmedicated)
Oh man. If I had a nickel for every time this has left my mouth… here’s the thing:
Chastising a woman’s birth plan to go unmedicated is mean, it’s not funny, and it’s ignorant. “You don’t get a medal” for it? No kidding. No one gets a medal regardless of HOW they give birth. Surely no one expects a medal, right?
Every woman I know who has decided to give unmedicated birth a go has done so for very private and thought-out reasons, not because she’s seeking praise from other people. Many times she feels like this is the best choice for her and for her baby. Assuming she’s in it for the praise is gross, and it’s a tell-tale sign that you have no idea what the F you’re talking about.
Deciding to try for an unmedicated birth is quite the decision. HER decision. If she wants your opinion, she’ll explicitly ask for it. Even if you think she’s crazy, please don’t tell her she won’t “get a medal” for it.
“Did you tear?”
Oh yikes. Another common postpartum question, and quite the invasive one. Asking a woman if she tore in childbirth should be generally seen as a no-no, right? Let me explain why this shouldn’t be a question you ask.
For many, childbirth can be a very traumatic experience and asking this question can bring back a lot of feelings of inadequacy, failure, and pain. Obviously these things don’t accompany every birth where there might be a tear, but they can. This type of birth injury is also pretty personal and not one that many people like to discuss. It’s like asking, “do you ever get hemorrhoids?” … which should be another question you don’t ask. Ok?
“All that Matters is that You and Baby are Healthy.”
What they really mean is physically healthy. Not many seem to care about the emotional scars (and sometimes physical) that may need healing. Of course everyone wants the process to yield a healthy baby and physically healthy mother, but acting like it’s the only thing that matters? That’s just wrong. It’s not surprising, though. Many people don’t think of mental health as a health care matter, even though it is.
How a mother is treated during pregnancy and childbirth matters. It matters simply for her experience, and it can matter in potential maternal mental health disorders. I could probably make an entire post on this one topic alone, but I’ll stop there. You can research this more if it interests you, but trauma in the delivery room is real and it should not be ignored or glanced over.
“You’re too BIG/small!”
Is it ever nice to tell a woman she’s too big or too small? No, it’s not, and that extends into pregnancy. Pregnant bodies are all different and bellies take on many different shapes.
“You can always try again.” (To Loss Moms)
While I haven’t ever personally experienced a loss, many women close to me have. I don’t pretend to understand exactly how it feels, but I feel confident when I say it can’t feel good. From speaking to women who have experienced loss, I’ve gathered that this phrase is really hurtful, and it makes sense.
By uttering this phrase, you’re implying that the woman didn’t really lose anything, but to many who have lost, they feel as though they have really lost a CHILD. What heartbreak to hear someone imply that this child hadn’t mattered and that they can simply “try again”. I can say with certainty that it mattered to her.
“What are you going to do so you can ‘bounce back’?”
There is so much pressure on women to keep up their physical appearance after baby is born. I see a lot of talk about “bouncing back” on social media and it makes me feel so icky. Of course it’s important to take care of ourselves. It’s smart to eat well and get enough exercise, but it seems that society has gone well beyond this when referring to new moms. There’s already an enormous internal pressure and now an external pressure to conform. It’s a failure if she doesn’t fit back into her pre-pregnancy jeans or if she keeps a little tummy around. Don’t add to this noise.
“Are you going to XYZ?” (circumcise, vaccinate, etc.)
Say it with me, “it’s none of my business.” Parenting can be hard enough as it is. I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t agonize over some of the “harder” decisions, at least a bit. Many have poured over the evidence and in the end have come to a very personal decision about what’s right for their child. Asking this question is invasive and demeaning, especially when accompanied with your unasked-for opinion.
To mothers I know everywhere, if I’ve ever muttered something like this to you, I’m sorry. Consider this a very public apology. I know better now.
If you didn’t before, maybe now you can see just how “cringey” these phrases are. I hope you’ll think twice before muttering them to a new or expecting mom in the future. There’s power in our words and I believe that we should try to build people up, and quite frankly, stick to the business that’s ours.
With that said, if a mother openly wants to discuss one of these topics with you, please listen, and add in as little of your own commentary as possible. Sometimes she just needs to be heard. Women are strong, and if your opinion is desired, have full confidence that she’ll ask for it. Otherwise, let her be.