Becoming a mother is one of the most exciting life changes that a woman might go through, but one thing that nobody prepares you for is the amount of unsolicited comments you get about your body from friends, co-workers and even strangers.
From asking whether you’re having twins to guessing the weight of the baby based on the size of your bump, getting a rolling update on your physical appearance can be a pretty invasive experience for a pregnant woman.
Bump shaming has been a real thing for a while now, but new research has shed light on just how damaging it can be to a woman’s mental health, affecting both their confidence and general wellbeing.
When people comment "twins" on your baby bump picture .....................😐— Chelsea DeBoer (@ChelseaHouska) 30 October 2016
Two-thirds of mums say it’s had a negative impact
In a survey of over 1,000 mums, My Expert Midwife found that 76% of pregnant women have experienced comments about their appearance that have made them feel uncomfortable.
The research revealed that unpleasant remarks led to over two thirds (66%) of those surveyed experiencing a negative affect on their mood. The mums-to-be also claimed that women were most guilty of bump-shaming behaviour, with 80% of all negative comments coming from other women.
It’s something that celeb mum Becky Vardy, who is currently pregnant with her fifth baby, can relate to. The former I’m a Celeb star revealed that she received cruel and uncalled-for jibes while on holiday with her husband Jamie Vardy.
"Quite recently, pictures of me wearing a bikini on holiday were on a very well-known national news site," she says. "The article was kindly worded but these pictures lead to strangers posting tons of negative and derogatory comments from about my bump and my body."
Vardy continues: "Their comments angered me because, although I am quite thick-skinned, not everyone is and no one should be allowed to say or post those things about anyone.
"It's even more hurtful when you’re pregnant and have no control over the changes to your body."
Vardy is now supporting a new campaign by My Expert Midwife, called #MyBodyMyBump, to call for an end to bump shaming for good.
Celebs and bloggers have spoken out about it
This isn’t the first time that high-profile stars have spoken out about receiving unsolicited comments about their baby bump.
During her first pregnancy, reality star Lauren Conrad schooled her fans on the reason why aiming remarks at pregnant women can be a form of body shaming. She even went as far as to publish a whole guide on pregnancy etiquette for those wanting to exercise good manners around expectant friends.
Conrad wrote: "While seeing a friend’s bump grow can be really exciting, you probably don’t comment on the size or shape of any other part of a woman’s body—and it’s not a good idea to comment on her bump either!
"Women carry their pregnancy in all different ways, and can be self-conscious about it.
"Whether a woman is bigger than average or she’s not showing as much as she thought she would be, keep in mind that it can be a very sensitive subject."
Sarah Bradford, a blogger at Scary Mommy also shared a first-hand account of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of critical comments.
She wrote: "When I was pregnant, I found that along with the changes my body was going through, came the fact that the people around me now thought they somehow had the right to comment on my body.
"Toward the end of my pregnancy, I found myself not wanting to leave the house for fear of what comments I might receive that day.
"I know that people don’t mean to be unkind when commenting on a pregnant woman’s body. However, as pregnant women, during this time of great transition in our lives, what you say to us does matter."
I hate when people comment on the size of my baby bump, or say I must be having twins. Maybe it's a weird thing to be self-conscious about, but 😣— Heloween ☕📖 (@thehelsproject) 21 September 2019
It’s time to flip the dialogue
The thing about bump shaming is that most of us probably don’t realise we’re doing it. While you might think your, "Wow, look how big you’ve gotten!" comments are well-meaning, it might not be received with the same enthusiasm.
An obvious remedy to the issue is to stop commenting on a woman’s size altogether, but that doesn’t mean you have to awkwardly skirt around the issue of pregnancy when you next meet an expecting friend for coffee. There are ways to share in a new mother’s excitement in a sensitive and supportive way.
For instance, instead of discussing the size of their bump, you could complement them on their pregnancy glow or mention how brilliantly they’ve taken to pregnancy.
Rather than focusing on the physical, you could also ask how they’re feeling, whether there’s anything you can do to help or chat to them about what they’re looking forward to most in motherhood.
It’s good to remember that commenting on a small bump (in relation to the wellbeing of the baby) can also cause unnecessary worry to an expectant mother. A pregnant woman will be fully assessed about the health of their baby by a doctor and a midwife, so there’s no need to express concern.
Yes, I have a small baby bump. I carry low. My baby is measuring right on track and is healthy. Why do people feel the need to comment on how small I am like it's something I’m doing wrong 😠— Sky (@sky_heacock) 15 September 2019
It’s also completely normal for women to carry baby weight for months after labour – so think twice before asking someone when they’re due on first meeting. It may very well be that they’ve already given birth.
With a bit more thought, we can all reframe the discussion around bump etiquette.
"You would think that at a time when mental health is such a topical subject that this shouldn’t be happening," says Vardy, who advises that anyone affected by negative comments should seek advice and support.