How NOT to talk to pregnant women about their body

Guest post by Jennifer
How NOT to talk to pregnant women about their body
“The Belly” maternity shirt from Bump Covers

A few years ago, before pregnancy was even a consideration of mine, I lost a lot of weight by counting calories and exercising. Looking back, I accidentally took my diet and exercise regimen a bit too far. I became addicted to the control aspect of logging the calories of every single food that touched my lips (including breath mints — I’m not even kidding.) I also became addicted to the fact that everyone was telling me how “great” I looked, even when I should have really stopped losing so much weight.

Around the time I started getting some pretty serious comments from my friends and family about being “too skinny,” I stopped counting calories, and allowed myself to eat and exercise normally. I put some weight back on, and I was able to achieve an optimal healthy weight for my height. I was feeling great, and then BOOM! I accidentally got pregnant.

As I expected, all of my anxieties about eating, weight gain, and nutrition came flooding back — this time with more of an emphasis on doing the “right thing” for my baby. How much weight is “normal” to gain in each trimester? How do I know if I’m eating enough of the right kinds of foods to nourish my baby? How do I know if I’m not gaining enough weight? Can I still exercise, if so, how much?

When your body becomes commentary

One of the worst parts of being pregnant is that your body becomes a conversation piece.

I always imagined being pregnant and “eating for two” would be glorious, but I’m finding myself obsessed and worried about the amount and quality of food that I’m eating. After several conversations with my doctors, opinions from three different highly respected pregnancy books, and a whole lot of Googling, I have settled on eating about 500-600 MORE calories than I used to be eating, which is actually much harder than I expected it would be. I’m also desperately trying NOT to make a habit of counting my calories, except when I feel like I haven’t eaten enough in a day.

One of the worst parts of being pregnant is that your body becomes a conversation piece. It has been hard enough to deal with the lack of control of my changing body, but it’s been difficult to field constant comments from people who want to talk about my how my body looks, to the point that I was actually dreading my own baby shower.

I am only four weeks from my due date, and most of the comments I have received recently, especially those from my well-intentioned friends and family are along the lines of, “Wow! You look SO small!” or “You hardly look pregnant!” Some of my friends who grew really large bellies during their pregnancies tell me that I should feel lucky I’m not huge. Others have told me that I will be so glad that I won’t have to shed as much weight after baby is born.

I purposely don’t post many pictures of my “baby bump” on Facebook, because after so many comments, I started to wonder if my baby was actually growing okay. I know in my heart that everyone means well, so I politely tell anyone who makes a comment about my size that that my doctors say baby is growing just fine.

And it’s true, my doctors appointments have been going really well. At each appointment, they have to constantly reassure me that baby is growing normally, and my stomach is measuring almost textbook perfectly. My loving husband has been trying to counteract all the “small” comments by telling me he thinks I look great. He’s the only one whose opinion actually matters to me, so I try to believe him.

Comments in the wild

In all reality, the worst offenders don’t come from my well-intentioned friends and family. They happen out in the world when I’m least expecting it…

In my workplace: A random client that I’ve never met before asked when I was due. When I told her my due date, she said “That can’t possibly be right! You don’t look that far along!” as if I was lying to her. She then proceeded to tell me about her pregnant friend who is “SO much bigger” than I am, and she isn’t due until a month after my due date.

On the street: I could write a whole separate post about the inappropriateness of this one, but some guy actually had the audacity to cat call, “Who knocked YOU up?!” as though he missed an opportunity to get to me first. Ew!

In the checkout line at the grocery store: A gentleman asked if I was pregnant. When I sheepishly told him that I am, he said (and I quote), “Phew! You never can tell these days… Y’know, with all these chunky women.”

I don’t want to discourage human connection for the sake of political correctness, especially because I know some women absolutely LOVE the way their pregnant body looks. I’m not sure there is a right answer for how to talk to a pregnant woman about her body, unless you fully understand your own relationship with that woman, or her own relationship with her changing body.

I can only speak from my own experience, but even before I was pregnant, I noticed how repeated similar comments about your body really do start to add up and can actually impact your self perception. One comment about someone’s size might not seem like a big deal, but the more people who tell me my belly is “small” have already made me doubt myself as a mother.

Maybe this is just preparation for the onslaught of comments I’ll get about the parenting decisions I’ll have to make. One step at a time.

Comments on How NOT to talk to pregnant women about their body

  1. Dude! I guess the “you look so small!” people think they’re being complimentary… or something? But gross guy on the street- What The Actual Fuck?! And grocery store guy isn’t much better. At one point in my life, I lost quite a bit of weight. At first the compliments were nice, but it soon became really invasive. People I only knew in passing from work would ask how many pounds I had lost. Not to mention that my weight loss was a healthy one, but for all they knew I was terribly ill. Some people made such a big deal of how I looked that the implication was I had looked bad before. Then I regained some weight, and the compliments were pointedly dropped from some quarters. Anyway, the point is: Maybe we don’t need to make casual comments about people’s bodies! If I don’t know whether someone is pregnant or not, I could just wait for them to tell me. If they don’t, perhaps we aren’t close enough to make it any of my business. There are lots of ways to engage with people far and wide without talking about their physical appearances. “How are you doing? What is new? What are you reading? Have you tried this brand of spaghetti sauce?” There’s a whole big world out there.

    Best of luck with the “advice” once your child is born. If you have frequent offenders in your life, you might try making it clear early on that you aren’t interested in advice. My mom asked to come and stay after my baby was born to help. I agreed on the condition that she not give me any advice unless I was literally about to put the baby in the pot instead of the spaghetti. It didn’t fully work, but definitely helped. For random strangers’ who want to give you their two cents, I enjoy the phrase “What an interesting piece of unsolicited advice!” delivered with a big smile. Deadly.

  2. Yes to all of this! I didn’t have it as bad as hyperemesis but I was so nauseous until about 18 weeks that food was completely unappetizing and I was subsisting on plain bagels and pretzels, losing weight, and worrying all the time about whether my baby was getting enough nutrients which she probably wasn’t since I couldn’t stand pretty much any vegetables for 9 months even once the “morning” sickness wore off.
    Meanwhile a coworker was about a week ahead of me and her bump was bigger and so everyone assumed she was farther along or would say stuff to her like “are you sure its not twins!” or “you must be ready to pop” when she had months left. I think we both would look at the other a bit like “I wish mine was like that.”

  3. I can so relate. The worst offender, for me, was my mom. She couldn’t stop telling people how huge I was, how I wasn’t due until the end of October even though I looked like I was about to go into labor now, ha ha ha. It was really hurtful. I hadn’t even gained that much weight, but I was all belly.

    I ended up being back to my pre-pregnancy weight about two weeks after my daughter was born. Not what I expected, but everything about my pregnancy, from conception to birth, was not what I expected.

    Good luck! I was also due on Halloween, but she had other ideas and arrived on October 4th.

  4. I feel this so much. It’s been weird too, as the comments have continued (and Baby is almost 6 months old)! I think during pregnancy, it wasn’t so bad for me as I could keep the mantra in my head of, “The doctor says everything looks great! The doctor says Baby is healthy and strong!” – but now, comments about my body are really uncomfortable for me. I think it’s largely because I’d very rarely had people comment on my body before, and I’m not doing anything to maintain or achieve a particular appearance. “Thank you?” in a really confused tone has become my go-to response, but I’m not sure it’s the best of all possible options.

  5. That comment about looking small would have slayed me. My daughter had a terminal condition (she died towards the end of the second trimester) and the main side effect was low amniotic fluid. So I was incredibly small. With my next (healthy) pregnancy, if someone told me I look small, I would have been consumed with anxiety that same thing was happening again. On the flip side, my friend had excess amniotic fluid and her son was very sick and is now special needs. A side effect was the high fluid. Belly size is not public chit chat!!! Our culture needs radical change around this. Thanks for writing this!

  6. Hey all – baby has not arrived yet. (Due next week!) I just wanted to express gratitude for the opportunity to vent through Offbeathome. It feels good to have support from this community.

  7. Oh I totally feel you. When I was pregnant with twins everyone, and I mean everyone, would comment on my size. I am very tall and I carried really high so I had a very small bump. The comments about how I must be lying about being pregnant with twins or how I must be starving myself were non-stop. Although I think those people were just trying to be funny. Other women got down right nasty with their comments. The “Wow must be nice to be skinny” “You have it so easy being pregnant and being that skinny” etc etc etc. Don’t even get me started on the things people say to you if you loose the baby weight quickly. It is legit gross.

    Good luck with the baby. And congratulations.

  8. Reading Offbeat Life has make me open my eyes on how rude it is to comment on people’s bodies in general, even when we think we are being supportive. However, it is such a frequent and common conversation opener or way to “flatter” someone that I am finding it a little difficult to replace it with something else, and I think other readers might be too.
    I found this page that talks about the horror comments pregnant people have received and suggestions on what to say instead:

  9. I had a similar experience with comments on my “small belly” or how I look really tiny. I just had strong abdominal muscles and it was my first baby. It bothered me because I remember the first trimester being anxious about when I would start to “show.” I tried to tell myself that when I got comments from other women who were once pregnant that it was just a way of saying “a belly really does get in the way” which I understood as I got further along. My way of combatting the “your small” comments was to do my little parlor trick of relaxing my abdominals as much as I could and I would “gain” a few inches around my waist.

    Even postpartum I lost so much weight. Not going back to pre-pregnancy weight, but I got close after just a few weeks. I’ve gained some back, but it was mostly because I was so stressed from the baby that I would get nauseous when eating. I also had postpartum depression, which I am sure it was effecting my eating habits.

  10. Totally agree with you on the size thing. I carried most of my pregnancy weight in front. So people who approached me me from the back or front would say “oh you’re not that big. ” and then I would turn sideways and they would say “oh!”
    The only thing you need to worry about is what the doc says about you or the baby. Nothing else that anyone says matters. That also applies after the baby is born. As long as the doc says you and baby are doing well, then everything is good. My daughter is just over a year old and hasn’t started walking or eating solid food. Her doc says that’s okay. So I’m not going to worry about it. After all I didn’t start walking until after 12 months and I turned out fine *twitch, twitch* 😉

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