Listen back to the audio above to hear Suzy Griffin on Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1.
I almost didn't write this piece as I felt it was totally personal to me, but after the response I got when I popped a question box on my Instagram on the topic it’s safe to say, I’m not alone!
I’m on my third pregnancy and the one thing lockdown has given me is a break from the comments on my bump, I didn’t notice how frequent they were until they were gone. Like most other women who were pregnant pre-Covid, my previous pregnancies involved me being out and about meeting lots of people daily right up until mat leave kicked in two weeks before my due date.
When you meet someone and are obviously expecting, the vast majority will pass comment, and to be honest when you’re eight and a half months pregnant and they don’t say anything, that can feel strange too. To be fair, pretty much all the comments come from a really lovely, genuine place with absolutely zero harm meant.
I suppose what people forget or don’t know at all is that being pregnant is not just an incredibly exciting time, it can also be a very stressful time, especially for first time mums or those who’ve struggled to conceive or keep a previous pregnancy. There are things you can say to a pregnant woman that will do no harm at all, but there are also comments you can make that plant a seed of worry or trigger anxiety.
Below are just some of the answers I got on Instagram after I popped up a question box asking others what comments they’ve received while pregnant, they are also a good example of what not to say to someone who is expecting.
1. You’re very big for X months!
2. You’re absolutely tiny!
3. How are your breasts?
4. Do you have morning sickness? You don’t look well!
5. Twins? Oh no, nightmare!
6. I thought you looked pregnant when I saw you last!
7. Oh, you’ll want to go again for the girl now!
8. You’re not pregnant AGAIN are you?
9. I hope all that weight comes off fast!
10. Were you bored during lockdown?
11. Did you conceive naturally?
12. Will you go again after this one?
13. What if this one has autism too?
14. Any sign baby’s coming?? (constantly on month 9)
15. Ah, but you’re so blessed (when you complain once)
16. Was your boss annoyed that they’ve to replace you now?
17. Was this planned?
18. Did you have it yourself? (!!)
19. Who’s the father?
20. You must be having a girl, girls tend to take the glow off their mother
21. Your bump is so low
22. Your bump is quite high
23. You look so tired
24. You’ll have your hands full now
25. Pregnant on first already to have a second to avoid an only child
26. Would you not have got married first?
27. That’s a big age gap
28. You’re really showing now aren’t you?
29. Is that why you postponed the wedding? (Said to a Covid bride)
30. How long will you take off work?
31. Will you bother going back to work?
32. You look very swollen
33. Don’t take the epidural
34. You’ll need to get them into a routine early
35. Are you going to breastfeed?
36. I hope you’re not going to use a soother
37. We were wondering whether it was a baby or extra weight!
38. Did you hear about so and so's labour? (Or any labour horror story)
39. This will be your last now though won’t it
40. You’re having another? How many is that now??
41. Enjoy all that time off now (when going on mat leave!)
42. You won’t be getting those nails done when you have a baby!
43. Does this mean you’ll be getting married?
44. Can I rub your bump??
45. Oh no kids for me yet, I enjoy life too much
46. One is fine, wait until you have two!
47. Just have a ginger biscuit! (when vomiting all day, every day)
48. Oh you’re waddling! Won’t be long now
49. Enjoy your sleep while you can
50. Are you going for a boy this time?
Niamh Murray, Holles St midwife kindly agreed to lend her expertise on the topic of the unsolicited comments and questions made to pregnant women on their appearance.
Commenting on a pregnant ladies general appearance is a no go. Telling someone they have a 'huge’ bump is terrifying. They then question everything from the labour, how they will deliver, will they be ‘ruined down below’ after or if there is something else going on like diabetes, it causes all sort of panic for women.
Some women get comments like oh ‘your bump is so neat’; this too would be one to steer clear of as you don’t know if there is a reason they might have a small baby, any underlying issues with the pregnancy or the mother herself.
Commenting on the size of the bump is definitely one of the most common things said to pregnant women, and as Niamh says it can spark a lot of anxiety. But another huge issue for pregnant women to contend with is the issue of expectations: the expectation that their labour will go the way they’ve heard it should, that they’ll breastfeed, that they’ll implement a sleep routine within the first few months etc.
When you question the plans a pregnant woman has for things like labour/feeding/sleep routines they can contribute to bigger issues later on as Niamh explains:
"If people have commented on these things prior to the birth, women after can feel they have not succeeded if they have not achieved this. They feel deflated, embarrassed and very disheartened. There is still a substantial amount of cases [of postnatal depression*] caused by images of motherhood that have not met their expectations... It is therefore hugely imperative to be seen to be supporting women and not trying to influence their decisions or let them feel as though they have let anyone down."
"I think any new mum feels a certain weight of expectation and pressure, it’s only natural as we want to give our babies that absolute best we can. But the balance can be tipped from slightly stressed to pure and utter devastation all too easily."
You’re probably wondering at this stage is there anything you can safely say to a pregnant woman, and the answer is yes, they’ve even been verified by midwife Niamh.
Instead of leading with assumptions and observations, a gentler approach is to leave your own presumptions behind and ask questions like ‘How are you finding the pregnancy’ or ‘How are you feeling?’, and needless to say there is absolutely no right or wrong answer to these kinds of questions.
As pregnancy and motherhood can be a completely different experience for every single woman, it’s only fair to let the woman in question decide what feels comfortable and is right for her.