Baby Bump Etiquette Check

How to deal with unwanted comments and belly pats.


More often than not, you'll find that a protruding belly incites unsolicited comments and advice, unwanted touches (especially the infamous "belly pats") and the telling of pregnancy war stories by other mothers who've "been there." But just because you're about to be a mom doesn't mean you're not entitled to set personal boundaries, says Ginger Gabriel, Ph.D., a family therapist in Lake Gregory, Calif. Here are some tips to help you make it through these 40 weeks with grace.

Say What?
When you're pregnant, everyone has comments and opinions to offer. They'll tell you how much weight to gain, what foods to eat and how frequently to exercise. (They also won't hesitate to tell you what not to do.) "While it's impossible to keep people from giving you advice, you have the right to ignore it," Gabriel says.

For the best results, prepare your replies in advance. When Loretta Sharpe, a 46-year-old mother of four, was asked repeatedly if her fourth pregnancy was accidental or planned, she developed a convenient comeback. "I would answer, 'Unplanned but not unwanted,'" she says. "Because I was a little older, people wondered if I really wanted this baby. I just prepared myself with a response."

Many people can't resist predicting the gender of your baby. "During all three of my pregnancies, I had strangers come up to me (including a construction worker and a doorman) and comment about my 'carrying a boy' physique," says Jennifer Barrett, a 39-year-old editor living in West Hartford, Conn. "That, I learned, entails having your regular body but with an enormous basketball stomach attached. I ended up with three girls."

You may even hear your share of old wives' tales. Some women have been told that excessive worry causes a child to be born left-handed, says Paula Spencer, author of Everything Else You Need to Know When You're Expecting: The New Etiquette for the New Mom (St. Martin's Griffin, 2000). "Very often the person is well-intentioned, if ill-informed," she says. "Try something polite but vague to put them off, like 'That's interesting. I'll ask my doctor.'"

Hands Off
There was no way 26-year-old Julie Vasquez, a stay-at-home mother of four, could have anticipated her female cousin's response to the news of her fifth pregnancy. In a room crowded with mostly male relatives, her cousin excitedly lifted up Vasquez's shirt to catch a glimpse of her bulging belly. "I was absolutely horrified," Vasquez says. "I think she did it without thinking, but I was so shocked."

Thwart unwanted touches by role-playing with someone you trust. Have a friend pat your stomach and practice saying, "I'd rather you didn't do that." Repeat this until you feel comfortable setting limits. "You have the right to say no to any unsolicited touch. If the person doesn't respond, give yourself permission to walk away," Gabriel says.

I Can't Hear You ...
While pregnant with her daughter, Apryl Thomas was shaken by the pregnancy horror stories other women seemed compelled to share. "They told me my hair would fall out, my body would fall apart, labor would be long and painful, and other things I just didn't want to hear," says the 31-year-old Atlanta-based writer. "It scared me."

When people start to share personal stories you'd rather not hear, politely turn the focus back on them. Say, "Sounds like you had a difficult pregnancy," Gabriel suggests. Try to remember that most storytellers don't mean to scare you. "Usually they've just gotten carried away by the vivid memory of their own experience," Spencer says. "If you've heard enough, though, feel free to change the subject."