How to Handle Unwanted Attention During Pregnancy

Tired of the belly pats and awkward questions? Here's how to deal with the biggest pregnant-lady annoyances

Illustration by Aleks Sennwald

Illustration by Aleks Sennwald

Getting a belly pat was the last thing Shannon Golding expected during a test drive of a new car. “The guy selling us our car reached over and rubbed my stomach!” says the Winnipeg-based mom-to-be. Flustered, she didn’t know how to respond. “I did nothing. I was too shocked.”

While its great to share excitement over your new baby, its very important that your body and your personal boundaries are respected. So if unsolicited comments (“You’re huge! Do you have twins in there?”) and bump-noogies are messing with your mojo, plan ahead so you can respond appropriately—preserving your peace of mind and your relationships. After all, some of the most egregious offenders are friends, colleagues and family.

Here’s our expert advice for coping with three of the biggest pregnant-lady annoyances:

Space Invaders

As Golding discovered at the car lot, many people find baby bumps magnetic—they can’t seem to resist helping themselves to a touch. But that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate anyone getting handsy with you and your baby-to-be.

How to Deal: Overcome your initial fear of seeming standoffish and tell well-wishers—nicely—to back off, advises etiquette expert Lew Bayer, president of Winnipeg-based Civility Experts Worldwide. Work up the courage to say something like, ‘Please don’t take it personally, but I’m not comfortable with people touching my belly,’’’ she suggests. Rehearse it in the mirror until you’re confident saying it. Or, tackle the situation with humour. Respond to a belly-rub request with a smile and say: “If you don’t mind my touching yours—sure!” quips Bayer. If you’re at a loss for words and see the touch coming, simply step back and put your hands over your belly to cut people off at the pass.

“Um… thanks?” Comments

Sophie Merven says remarks about her minimal weight gain were a cause of consternation. “I occasionally got, ‘Wow, you don’t even look pregnant, are you sure your baby is okay in there? Is he smaller compared to the norm?’ I mean, there are enough things that can scare a new mom, so why make it worse?” she says. “I don’t like confrontation, so I usually swallowed my response to offensive comments and kept it civil,” says the Montreal mother of one.

How to Deal: Remind yourself that many bystanders are dumb-stuck by the miraculous changes a pregnant woman’s body goes through, which is why they say dumb things, like comment on your minimal/tremendous weight gain, or you glowing/zit-covered complexion. Blowing off out-there comments with a breezy smile and hasty exit is the easiest approach, says Bayer: “Most people will get the message.”

Too Personal

From the colleague who wants to know if you plan to take a full year off or how much weight you’ve gained to Merven’s experience of “women insisting on telling me their most horrific birth stories,” mamas-to-be get a lot of personal questions and unsolicited advice—some of which may strike you as disparaging to your own plans. “Everyone says to ask for the epidural right away—especially right after I say I would like to see how it’s going, and then decide,” says Golding.

How to Deal: Feel free to shut the topic down with an all-purpose response like:

  • “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this, let’s talk about something else.”
  • “My partner and I haven’t made these decisions yet.”
  • “Nope! No plan yet!”

“This is all a bit tricky, too, because often co-workers will throw a baby shower or give gifts and it’s not really reasonable to accept those courtesies without expecting/allowing those same people to ask a polite, not-too-personal question or have a comment along the way,” says Bayer. “Having said that, you can—and should—set boundaries.”

But do try to look at nosy questions or over-sharing from the eyes of the person you are speaking with. “Sometimes people say inappropriate things or give unsolicited advice, but for the most part, the intention is to show support, and share a common experience,” says Bayer.

If comments cross the line or come on the wrong day (when you’re hot, hungry, and your feet hurt because no one gave you a seat on the bus), feel free to tell people what you really think. Feeling comfortable with yourself and your baby in your own body is the most important thing. And if anyone’s offended, just blame the pregnancy hormones.

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