In my research, size is one of the least appropriate comments for pregnant women. In nearly every form, questions or comments about a woman’s size (whether she is pregnant or not) are unwelcome. Let’s look at some of the questions and statements that women reported rude or simply irritating.
“How many months are you? Eight? Oh, you're only six months along? Wow.”
“Are you due any day?” or “Are you sure about your due date?”
“Are you due in the next few days” (asked at 23weeks). Or “You're only ____ far along?!”
“You look like you're going to pop.”
“Wow you're so big!” or “You are too big.”
“WOW! You're getting HUGE!! YOU BLEW UP!”
“Wow, you're getting fat!”
“Are you having twins?; You're kinda big.”
“How many shoe sizes have you gone up from the swelling? Wow you've gained a lot of water weight!”
“How much have you gained this pregnancy?”
“You’re sooo big, you’re not having a baby, you’re having a toddler!“
Yes, all of these are actual comments reported by pregnant women. Clearly, women do not want to hear that they are big when they are pregnant. Let’s face it, we really don’t ever want to hear that we are big. Several women pointed out that if you wouldn’t comment on a woman’s non-pregnant weight, it’s also not appropriate when she is pregnant. And in case no one has told you, please let me be the first – women gain weight when they are pregnant. And some women gain a lot of weight. There are many factors that influence how much weight a woman will gain when she is pregnant and not all of those factors are how much she eats! Really, this issue is best left between a woman and her medical professional.
Now, lest you think that size only cuts one way, let’s look at the other size-related comments that are troublesome before we analyze this size/weight issue further:
“You don't look pregnant.” Or “You are not even showing.”
“What do you have in there - a 1 lb. baby?”
“You can't possibly be due in January" or “I was that big at 6 months and you are already 8 months.”
“You still look really skinny.”
“Are you starving your baby? Shouldn’t you be bigger?”
“Why aren’t you going to gain more weight?”
“You haven’t gained enough weight. Your baby is going to be too small.”
Obviously, people are more creative with their “big” comments than they are with their “small” comments. You might be saying to yourself, “but comments about being small are a compliment!” Well, maybe to you. But not to a woman who feels very pregnant. She might want to look pregnant. Other women report that being told they are small (read: too small) makes them nervous for the health and safety of their baby. Really! Yet, both types of comment bother many pregnant women. Some women simply said that any comment about their weight was unwelcome.
When we look at why women didn’t like these comments/questions, the reasons are many! The vast majority of women simply said weight-related or size-related comments are rude. Other women said that maybe people (society) does not realize what a healthy pregnancy look like and therefore pick on people they think have gained too much or too little weight. Other women felt like these questions about size and weight were invasive; that a woman should not be asked how much weight she gained. Again, these women feel that the information is private between her and her medical professional. One woman, whose answer encompassed several made by other women reported:
"Many so called 'questions' make me feel judged. They are not intended as questions....they are intended as statements that I should not be doing the activity in question. It feels like the 'pregnancy police' are everywhere, watching everything I do. People—including complete strangers-- feel that they not only have the right, but that they are in fact obligated, to question a pregnant woman's every move. Most of the questions are ones that they would never DARE ask a non-pregnant woman."
Many women reported that they know they have gained weight. They know their belly sticks “way out.” They simply don’t want or need to be told. On woman said it like this: “like you don’t feel bad enough that your body is changing and being stretched out the last thing you want is some one to comment on it.” Many women reported that being told they are big made them feel fat. One woman reported that, “I might look big or small, I don’t want people to talk about it.”
Overwhelmingly, that seems to be the response (or lack of response) that most pregnant women want. Most pregnant women simply don’t want people (strangers or friends) to comment on their size.
Did you have any idea that your simple statement could cause such anxiety in the woman? Your words have a lot of power. Lots of women reported that after such comments they had to check with their medical professional (sometimes several times) to make sure their weight gain was healthy and the baby was safe. Really, pregnancy, especially first full-term pregnancies are filled with enough uncertainty. I'm certain none of us mean to add to that uncertainty.
So, what’s the appropriate response? Ignore the woman whose belly keeps us from standing as close as we might want to for best friends? Well, if you are best friends, just ask her how she feels about size comments. Otherwise, try a general comment such as “you look great.” Now, some women will still object to that, especially if they don’t feel like they look good! But honestly, most of my respondents reported that they would rather hear a compliment that sounds like a compliment. Several women reported they want to hear they look great, even if you need to stretch the truth a bit! One woman said she really wants someone to say something nice about her, even if it is a compliment on her shirt.
So obviously, if you think she does look fat, please don’t tell her. If you think she is gaining too much weight, let her medical professional deal with that. It’s not your job. So, just smile sweetly, tell her she looks great, and move on to other topics.