The Etiquette of Pregnancy: A Bizarre Social Phenomenon


Life is tough enough without having someone kick you from the inside.
–Rita Rudner

A strange phenomenon happens to pregnant women.  The people around them lose their social sensitivity.  Truthfully this phenomenon baffles me for two reasons: First, the perpetrators are often women themselves.  Second, pregnant women are a pressure cooker of hormones and emotions – at any minute they could cry, yell, or throw up.  Logically you would think we’d be on our best behavior around them.  Yet, talk to any woman who’s carried a baby, and they’ll have stories of inconsiderate people. From an etiquette perspective, here are the worst offenders:

  1. Belly violators:  Before I was pregnant I’d heard about people spontaneously touching the bellies of pregnant women.  I thought that surely this pregnancy myth couldn’t be true.  It’s just not accepted behavior in our society to touch someone’s stomach.  As with so many of my pre-pregnancy beliefs on pregnancy – I was wrong.  People actually touch your stomach.  It’s bizarre. 
  2. Size Police:  Size police are sometimes sneaky.  They don’t critique the expecting mom’s size directly; they come through the side door.  They’ll ask her if she’s having twins.  Or predict she’ll have a large baby.  They may greet her with an emphatically stated, “Wow.”  (It’s equally as rude to tell a woman she’s smaller than she should be.  I just don’t have any personal experiences with this side of the coin to share!) 
  3. Dr. Ruth Interrogators:  What was private before a pregnancy is still private.  Yet an announcement of pregnancy brings out the inner Dr. Ruth in friends and coworkers.  Suddenly people ask women (shockingly!) if their baby was planned.  If a woman is on her third, fourth, or fifth pregnancy she is subjected to jokes about her family planning and fertility. If a woman of a certain age is on her first pregnancy, she’ll be asked about fertility problems and if medical intervention was necessary to become pregnant.  Unless you’re a medical professional, behind closed doors with a patient, do not ask about these personal issues.  If she wants to share – she will. 
  4. Freddy Krueger Friends:  Ladies, I know labor and deliver is an initiation into a sorority of shared pain.  However, a woman about to face delivery, whether it’s her first or third baby, doesn’t want to hear your scary story. It’s like not wanting to watch a movie about a plane crash before flying. 

Recognize yourself in any of these categories?  Dave Barry wrote:

You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”

–Dave Barry, “Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn)

Remaining silent is certainly more polite than teasing her about a disappearing waistline. However, ignoring an obvious pregnancy can be just as awkward as responding badly! 

To be on the side of the etiquette angels, do the following:

  1. Congratulate her and wish her well. Either tell her she looks wonderful or don’t comment on her appearance. 
  2. Offer your seat to pregnant women.  Their feet hurt. 
  3. Only get personal if she goes there first!  Her “delicate situation” is not a license for you to remove your verbal filter.
  4. Special note for husbands.  Pregnancy is exhausting.  Your body is working to MAKE A PERSON.  It makes you tired.  Lighten the load a bit for the love of your life.  This is your moment in time to be the rock-star husband that women brag about at lunch with their girlfriends. 
  5. Special note for coworkers and bosses: Congratulate her and then continue to treat her as part of your team.  She’s the same competent professional she was prior to announcing her pregnancy. 

Stay tuned for additional posts covering the etiquette of BEING pregnant – how to handle insensitive people and the social-side of pregnancy (baby showers, gifts, etc.).  I’ll also write about the pregnant professional – how to tell your boss about a pregnancy and to remain the competent, committed professional that you are.

11 thoughts on “The Etiquette of Pregnancy: A Bizarre Social Phenomenon

  1. Oh my goodness I love this post! Great tips to be aware of!

    Also, really liking your new blog! Looking good! I have you listed on my right rail on my Style Ingenuity blog. Also, will start to include essential buttons on my etiquette blog. I am glad you have a button code now. I’m grabbing it! 🙂

    – Shelli 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Shelli! I just recently learned about buttons. 🙂 I will add yours to my blog as well, I enjoy reading EtiquetteEnVogue! I’m going to be working on a blogroll but that is a project for another day. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.


  2. More great writing, Amy. Love the offender headings. The whole belly violating phenomenon is amazing to me. My wife is a runner, and she ran pretty much up to the point of crowning with all four of our kids. She actually had an older gentleman come up to her at the Y and touch her stomach late in pregnancy #4 while she was running on the treadmill. He just couldn’t believe that she was pregnant and working out.

    Take care,


    1. Thank you so much Chase! I had the exact same experience (well, minus the treadmill). I was in a line and an older man came up and just rested his hand on my stomach. You don’t quite know how to respond! Introduce yourself to the stranger you’re sharing this intimate moment with? I had to squash down my instinctive response to slap his hand away! Thanks again for reading – looking forward to the next adventure from your household.

      Have a great weekend,

  3. Amy,

    I love it! I don’t know if you remember my fb status update a little while back, but this information would certainly have been helpful to those who inspired it! I enjoy your writing, too. Wonderful blog!

    1. Beth,

      Thank you so much! I do remember your fb status. Actually between your post and some stories from other friends recently I decided this would be a topic to write about. I’m glad you enjoyed it – I’ve been having so much fun with this new hobby of mine!


  4. True! True! True! All of it!

    I really enjoyed walking into work each day and hearing, “Oh wow! You’re really blossoming!” As though, using “blossoming” to replace “becoming really huge and gigantic” is a nicer way of saying it!

    I was also asked, “Is your husband a big man?” I didn’t even know how to respond to that one other than to shake my head and walk away.

    Great post!

  5. I found you from Chase’s link.

    I’ve found the most polite thing to say (or the least offensive thing to hear) was “when are you due?” for determining how far along one is in a pregnancy (after a positive pregnancy has already been established).

    As long as it is followed by a smile and “Congratulations” and not by a dropped jaw, one of your aforementioned comments and a “Wow, that far to go still?”

    I heard that one a lot. :-p

    1. Hello Kelly! Chase’s blog is hilarious – it’s the one I end up reading out loud to people. Thanks for clicking on the link he put up!

      I like “when are you due?” too. It shows interest but not astonishment! I kept getting, “You look like you’re going to pop any minute” – not what you want to hear at 7 months!

      Thanks for reading,

  6. Love this!
    My sister thinks it is perfectly normal behaviour to not only touch my bump but always pulls my top up to actually see it as well! My sister and my Mum both told me I was being strange when I quickly pulled my top back down! Am I?!

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