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Pregnancy Violations: Don’t Be a Victim

Scary labor stories, probing questions, unsolicited belly-rubbing: How can a mom-to-be handle these pregnancy etiquette violations gracefully?
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

If you've ever been pregnant, these scenarios will probably sound familiar to you.

You're waiting for the train, when suddenly you feel a hand reach out and rub your belly -- and it doesn't belong to anyone you know! Or you're in a room full of co-workers waiting for your boss to arrive, when suddenly a colleague looks in your direction and announces loudly, "Do you have to go pee before the meeting starts?"

Indeed, as rude and invasive as all of these pregnancy "etiquette violations" are, you've probably encountered them -- and more.

"I'm convinced that somehow all of the things most people would never think of doing or saying to a stranger, or even a co-worker, immediately pop into their mind when they see a pregnant woman. It's like their social editing button is stuck in the 'off' position," says Gabrielle Brennan, now six months pregnant with her second child.

Indeed, Brennan became so incensed about the unsolicited touching and commentary she received during her first pregnancy -- and later, after her baby was born -- she created, a line of baby, and soon, maternity clothing with slogans designed to circumvent some of these very pregnancy stresses.

"I just took all the snappy come-backs I wished I thought of at the moment, and put them on T-shirts and tops. It makes people stop and think before they open their mouth or reach over and touch you or your baby," says Brennan.

Unwanted Questions

While wearing a T-shirt with a snappy comeback is one answer, San Francisco pregnancy psychologist and author Shoshana Bennett, PhD, says the first step in stopping unwanted behavior is to recognize that you don't have to accept it.

"I think women in general, but pregnant women in particular, feel a certain sense of vulnerability that makes us think that just because someone asks us a question, no matter how inappropriate it is, we have an obligation to answer it. But in fact, this just isn't true," says Bennett, author of the book Postpartum Depression for Dummies.

Moreover, she says if you do choose to answer -- and it is your choice -- you don't have to give the play-by-play version; you can say as little as you like.

"The most important thing to realize is that you do not have to answer these questions in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or leaves you feeling that you said more than you wanted to. Keep remembering you are under no obligation to share your pregnancy specifics, even with family members, unless you want to," says Bennett.

If it feels awkward not to say anything, Bennett suggests giving a positive, but vague, reply. So, for example, if someone asks if your conception was "natural," if you're going to have a C-section, if you plan on breastfeeding, try responding with, "We're just so thrilled we're going to be parents; now what's new in your life?"

"The point is to politely get around the question and then redirect attention back to the other person," says Bennett.

Brennan says her favorite technique is to answer a question with a question. "I like to turn the tables immediately and respond with, 'That's an interesting question -- why do you want to know?' They usually get the message," she says, adding that chances are they won't ask you anything personal again.

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