Monday, August 03, 2009

Etiquette Around Pregnant Women

You would think that offending or upsetting a pregnant woman would be the farthest thing from any well-intentioned person's mind. But you would be amazed at how often perfectly nice people manage to say or do something that they really ought not to have, without even realising that they have done it. Having been at the receiving end of these faux pas this pregnancy and last, I thought I would compile a list of them:

  1. A little chivalry will never be misread. Offer to carry a heavy bag, give up your seat on a bus or in a conference room or go out of your way to drop a pregnant woman home, and she is sure to send some good karma your way.
  2. But there is a caveat to this, don’t go overboard. Pregnant women may be heavier, more easily tired and less able to perform strenuous tasks, but they are not invalids and over-solicitousness can be irritating. Last time around, I remember I drove my car to a conference (at a hotel 15 minutes away from my house) in my ninth month and everyone was like ‘Are you crazy? Why are you still driving?’ And I felt like saying, ‘What? Do you think I change gears with my belly?’ Or when I sit on the ground at a get-together, some five people hop out of their chairs and insist (over all my protestations to the contrary) that I couldn’t possibly be comfortable on the floor.
  3. Avoid trying to guess how far along a pregnant woman is. Unless you have the rare gift of predicting gestational age to the week, this never turns out well. Underestimate and you risk leaving her feeling that she is not putting on enough weight for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Overestimate and you leave her feeling fat, a cardinal sin when dealing with women – pregnant or otherwise. One would think this is obvious stuff but this particular topic seems to be a standard opener when talking to a pregnant woman. Last week, I happened to bump into someone who guessed that I was two months further along than I actually am and when corrected, she continued to stuff her foot further into her mouth by wondering if I was carrying twins!!!
  4. On that note, if you are not a hundred per cent sure she’s pregnant, pretend like there’s nothing different. Early this year, I met a colleague who gushed, ‘Wow! You’re pregnant again?’ I was depressed for two long weeks till I took the pregnancy test and found that I actually was. Now, of course, I think she was clairvoyant rather than rude but it could have gone either way… And then there is another colleague who got the not-guessing part down right but then a couple of days ago ruined it by saying something to the effect of ‘Phew! You are in the family way. I have been wondering about your weight gain for the last few months but felt it was rude to ask’…
  5. If you are waiting in a queue at a public restroom and there’s a pregnant woman behind you, let her go first. I know it goes against every grain of a big city dweller to give up their place in a queue but seriously, try and imagine having a really full bladder and then imagine someone putting a 2-kg (or more) weight on top of your bladder. ‘Desperate to pee’ takes on an entirely new dimension when you are pregnant.
  6. The upside of being pregnant is that men no longer talk to your chest. The downside is that everyone (men and women alike) talks to your belly instead… Staring at a pregnant woman’s belly is just plain rude. And unless you are a really close friend or family member, touching is even ruder.
  7. We all have at least one scary story about pregnancy, labour and/ or post-natal experiences. Miscarriages, premature deliveries, post-partum depression – there is no end to the number of things that could go wrong and the chances are that each of us knows of atleast one such event. But it’s probably best to keep it close to your heart if you are in the vicinity of a pregnant woman. Trust me, she’s worried and hormonal enough without you adding fuel to the fire…
  8. Unless you are the doctor or the spouse, remember that it is not your job to keep the pregnant woman on the pregnancy path of virtue. So hold your horses on chastising or interrogating her on her choice to drink an occasional glass of wine, watch a scary movie, wear small heels, carry her toddler when he’s upset, colour her hair or eat Chinese food, amongst the many other supposedly taboo things. I am sure she would have thought it through before she did any of these things (maybe even checked with her ob-gyn) but even if she hasn’t, it really is none of your business. And unsolicited advice falls into the same domain.

There, I think I got them all. Feel free to add on if you feel I've missed something.


  1. Whew..that is a quite comrehensive list ..and to this I would say I bought one yoga CD for pregnancy exercises ..I could not bear it for more than 20 min as in between the exercises there were so many threats like if u don't do this exercise this will be the effect and the likes...I got so tensed wathcing that CD that I could never put it on again...

  2. Good list, I think it might be a good idea to keep some prints of this handy and give them out like fliers.

    The more I think about my idea, the more I like it.

    Yeah, I am going to do it.

  3. great list

    I also have encountered a couple of people who are so indiff to my state that they ask me
    " why are u so tired?"
    " why cant you take these smells?"

    so callous....i only hope their wives or daughters give them hell when they are carrying

  4. Anonymous9:32 pm

    The driving one is something my inlaws thought I was insane to do till I went into labourIn fact I drove myself when I was having contractions in my 37th week. What was I going to do here? I didnt understand the reasoning behind that

    And printing it and handing it out will solve so many problems. Ohh you should leave a stack at your office's reception.

    Other than rude people and the urge to attach the toilet to your body, how have you been feeling?

  5. LOL!
    and yup, how are you?

  6. Great list. My niece, when carrying full term, was rudely shoved aside in a line for cinema tickets. People are amazing:(

  7. Here's one for your list, a BIG one:

    Do not, do not DO effin NOT tell the woman she is 'DEFINITELY' having a girl. Or a boy, as the case may be. You may be setting her hopes up and when the doc finally says, "Congratulations! It's a ---" she may start weeping...tears of disappoinment rather than joy!!
    So unless you've gone inside and looked, keep your trap SHUT!!

    Yes Ro, I'm very touchy about this one in particular. No prizes for guessing why!!!!!

  8. Good list...
    I find it very strange when random people ask about your birth plan and I feel like saying its not SOME POLITICAL CAMPAIGN that I want to talk about so please fulfill your urge to advise somewhere else!!!!

  9. Anonymous8:30 am

    I actually ave a list of do-not-say things from moms to non-moms!! I am sure that list is not applicable to you at all! It includes stuff like " ohhh arent you tempted looking at my chintu/ Dont you want one as well?" OR "Sorry,that friends meet was only for moms",when all you want to do is go meet new ppl and have a good time!These insensitive folks are oblivious to the fact that some ppl are actually not fortunate to be blessed with kids,and no amount of treatments help!

  10. ha ha great list!
    - it gets a little annoying when the same joke is repeated over and over- i see your belly first and then the rest of u walk in

    - advice given that u must do jhadoo pochaa & carry heavy bucket etc to ensure normal delivery

    - guessing gender by your looks
    - commenting that if u gain more than x kg of weight it all goes to your waist
    - giving u stuff to ensure u get a fair baby

  11. The post and topic u have written is very good.

    Lingerie news

  12. Anonymous3:18 pm

    -Re guessing (the other way round): don't walk up to a woman with a belly and assume that she is pregnant. She could be just fat. Please, please don't congratulate her on being pregnant again.

  13. Agree with Parul; a (suitably modified) list could be printed off as a brochure and kept in doctors' offices/hospitals.

  14. [Vandana] I can imagine!

    [Parul] Good idea about the fliers! But why would you need to be handing them out, missy? ;)

    [Art] That's not just bad manners... that's plain mean :(

    [Asaaan] Well, here it's the norm. You hire a chauffeur the day you get a positive on the pregnancy test, pretty much. I find I am more stressed out with someone driving me so it defeats the purpose...

    [Choxbox] Getting fatter, more tired and more sleep-deprived. But other than that, all good :)

    [Dipali] Amazingly mean, that is!

    [M4] LOL! Same thing happened with me as well. But I don't mind the guessing game (it's fun even) as long as it's not random people having a go at it.

    [AD] Well, we don't have birth plans in these parts but I can imagine how irritating than can be...

    [Anon] Oh yes, that kind of stuff is truly insensitive and offensive. Why assume that everyone should even want children, forget about having trouble with conceiving them. There are other ways to live!

    [Itchy] Ugh. The last one truly gets my goat.

  15. [Mummyjaan] Just missed your comment. It's just best not to guess - whether the person is pregnant, how far along, what gender - generally avoidable stuff.

  16. @Parul: *koff koff*

    Actually I've been guilty of a one of them atleast - guessing the gender (and I would only do it, if I know it truly didn't matter either way to the mom).

    I NEVER ever guess if someone is pregnant or not, that's dangerous territory never go there! Even if it's obvious, unless she tells me, I keep my mouth zipped. Bum pals included. If they announce after I'd guessed I would say "I knew it! No wonder you're glowing!" (And it is true, preggos have a glow)

    I told everyone who was over solicitous during my second pregnancy - I am pregnant not sick.

    That said, I didn't get too worked up about rude people, I know their intentions are not evil, we Indians need some coaching at schools on social graces ! We seem to be born with the foot-in-mouth gene.

  17. where is the comment i left this morning???

    basically i commended you on the most comprehensive list ever!

    and asked if you ever contemplated using the baby bump as violent weapon against asker of questions ?or was i the only evil one?

  18. what an awesome list. you think we could condense it and put it on a tee shirt?
    or it could just be one big fat bold word - DON'T.
    just don't!

  19. Mona: you have nailed it.

    DONT! to anyone wanting to advice that sweet glowing pregnant lady- that frazzled mom....

  20. Very good list. When I was expecting nos. 3 & 4 (yeah, the fp failed and I chose to continue) it was most irritating when people chose to give me lectures on the importance of family planning. I was like 'yeah, I know about that' but I just had to grin and listen up. What a pain!

  21. Anonymous12:06 am

    ahh thanks for writing this Ro. Even though I can find out here in the US, i don't want to. I went on a short trip to india and everyone told me, (yes, assuredly told me) that I am having a boy. Of course also that the way I sat, stood, slept all endangered my baby in the worst possible way. I am not saying their advice can be totally wrong but it's also a bit misplaced. They know I am an informed, curious person who has an OB so it just makes me feel inadequate like I can't be trusted with the health of this baby.

  22. Oh yes! Tell me about the "putting on weight" comment. I actually had a female come up to me in office and tell me that I was 'getting a leettle bit fat and need to hit the gym asap'. This from a female I have only smiled politely at once or twice before she hits me with this comment. what the eff!

    And I got one more - DO NOT tell a pregnant woman that it is okay for her to skip lunch and stay for a concall, because the boss (non-woman, non-pregnant) is doing so.

  23. Great compilation! I just forwarded this to my wife for a few 'I've been there' laughs ; we have a 1 year old and a 3 year old and it seems like we have been perpetually pregnant ..

    Some of what we hated :

    1. The belly touch -- when was the last time anyone relatively unknown touched your belly my wife would muse ..

    2. Guessing the gender -- involves a thorough stare at the tummy with comments on it's a boy as you are carrying low etc etc. The bad part is, they have a 50% success rate of being correct !

    3. People (desis) would turn up to me and tell me that they understood how hard it must be for me to manage without either of our parents here. My wife rolled her eyes with a "Hello, I'm the one carrying the 7 pounder moron !"

  24. :D

    what about in our time we used to everything when pregnant! or look at the maids, they are on their feet day 3! yeah i know i am a l'il more weak and fortunate perhaps! grrrr!

    and starting to ask your plans on work and who will take care of the baby months before it happens! dude i am worried enough about that and am trying to figure it out!

    otha advices i just smile politely and shut up! ;)

    LLOVED your list!


  25. [Poppy] Not that I get particularly upset or anything. Just find it amusing to see mostly well-intentioned people put their foot in their mouth ALL the time when it comes to pregnant woman :D

    [Sur] Baby bump as a violent weapon? No fault of the baby bump, na?

    [Mona] LOL at Don't! Super idea :D

    [Gaellika] They did? That's plain rude.

    [Girlonthebridge] I don't think it's about making you feel inadequate. People who offer unsolicited advice of this variety are typically trying to make themselves feel important and knowledgeable...

    [Amma] Whoa! You have some nasty people in your office!

    [Abha] That happened to me. Day One after announcing my first pregnancy at work, this senior manager (who does not have kids) comes up to me and says, 'Wow! That's great news. But how do you plan to manage?' !!!!

  26. [Madhu] Sorry! Missed your comment! Good to see a male perspective :)

  27. LOl..such a long list of etiquette. Now that i think of it , i feel i follow them all. Ok except few.

    Since i havent been pregnant till now and it sure looks like a pain , i guess i sometimes go overboard with chivalry.

    Oh yeah..and i remember my friend asking a lady on the local train how far along she she wasnt even pregnant, just plain fat. Lol..she got blasted.

  28. Impressive list! When I was carrying, some of the more modern ones asked if I were going for one of those 'pregnancy aerobics classes!' and other such classes for the first time mom along with counseling for spouse!

    It doesn't stop with pregnancy, it continues after the baby as well... how long and how much should you feed the baby, how to bathe the baby, what should you be eating, how fat you still look - my daughter got back to shape in 3 months! are you taking ayurvedic lehiyams? Have you started exercises? are you planning a second one? etc etc...

  29. I wish someone had compiled such a list when I was pregnant...Yes, many people need a crash course on such issues. The worst is (i think) asking a married woman when she plans to start a family. even if it is day two of married life.

  30. Fell off my chair at point 6!!! That's what it takes to stop men staring at your chest:)))

    I goofed up last month asking a distant cousin's wife if she was expecting her second one!!! I thought I wouldn't say anything...then thought she was looking offended that I'd ignored her bump!! So I ate my foot for dinner:)

    But my f-i-l had risked his life by passing some you-should-fast comments while I was wolfing down a snack during a solar eclipse. The look I gave him convinced him to go hide. A hungry preggie is a dangerous woman!

  31. Hi-Stumbled upon your blog n just loved it!

    A really useful list, specially loved the last point on offering advice.

  32. Good job. You've certainly got the whole list down. The one i most struggled with , very surprisingly, and which tells you a lot about human nature is how invisible i became the moment i got onto any public transport. Suddenly everyone raised the paper/book they were reading a little higher, no one wanted to make eye contact. Is it that much of a sacrifice to give up a seat for a very obviously pregnant woman? The biggest offenders were the men. The few times i did get a seat , it was old men who still remembered their manners , or women who obliged.

  33. [Gymnast] That is the worst possible faux pas - asking a non-regnant woman if she's pregnant :D

    [Uma] True. Maybe the pregnancy irritants are just preparation for what comes later :)

    [Suchismita] Oh yeah. That's a perennial favourite with the rude and nosey relatives. And once you have one kid, they want to know when the second one is coming!

    [Starry] Yup, I was told to fast too. I ignored and stuffed my face.

    [Hypermom] Thanks :)

    [Toady] Thankfully this is one that I have really been lucky with. Bar a couple of exceptions, I have been offered a seat every time...

  34. Hi I came from Hypermom's blog she had mentioned this post in her comments.

    I am scared of being pregnant so I understood some of the points. Gosh, people can be really insensitive without knowing that they are being insensitive.

    Some of the points you mentioned were scathing enough to indicate that they were written with feeling. Hope you don't run into such unpleasant conversations/advices while you are pregnant. Take care, best of luck1

  35. So with you on 7, Ro. I had a great aunt tell me perfectly horrid stories of pregnancies that didn't make it when I was confined to bed and it made the depression that much harder to bear.

    I don't know why people think telling you horror stories will cheer you up when you're dealing with your own.

  36. I loved this post of yours....

    I had a bad row with my husband when he said you are not taking care of yourself enough (b'cos I was not eating anything at all) - when I am puking my guts out..I am just in my third month and its my second one. Dont I know that I should eat?!!

    I told him to try eating when all he could think of is to puke! I think I said something like - I will curse you with such a state for the rest of your life - and it shut him up.

    Even if you mean well, just dont open your mouth, I say!

  37. Bang on.. btw, not sure if I have commented in the past, or I am a lurker here.. Anyways, this is my first time (being pregnant) and can relate to all of these.. How I wish I could scream at insensitive people.. even if I dont scream, but have a sullen face, people dont get that they should STOP.. most irritating is the 'talking from experience' tips..