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Celia Shatzman
Contributing Writer

How To Deal With Rude Questions During Pregnancy

Pregnant women seem to be a magnet for unsolicited advice and inappropriate comments. Here’s how to deal with rude people and (politely) put them in their place.

“Aren’t you too old to be pregnant?” “Wow, look at you—are you expecting twins?” “Did you conceive naturally?” You’d think people would know better, but these are just a few of the insensitive questions women are asked when they’re pregnant. “When it comes to social norms about not talking to strangers and intruding into their personal business, all bets are off with pregnant women,” says Alexis Conason, PsyD, a New York City–based psychologist specializing in body image and eating disorders. “Because pregnancy is so visible, people can have strong reactions to it, which makes them feel they can ask or say anything.”

Whether you’re dealing with a complete stranger or your mother-in-law, it can be tough to come up with answers that set boundaries without being rude yourself. “My philosophy is to assume that most people have good intentions and inadvertently make offhand comments they don’t mean anything by,” says Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life. There’s nothing wrong with answering questions by saying it’s a private matter and you don’t want to talk about it, or changing the topic if it’s someone you know or see regularly. And remember: “You don’t have to answer anything you’re uncomfortable answering,” she says.

Still, it’s a good idea to have a game plan for how you’ll respond when people butt in where they shouldn’t. “Sometimes we sacrifice our needs because we don’t to make other people feel uncomfortable,” Conason says. “Try to think about what you’ll say in advance and come up with something that feels comfortable for you. Need a little help? Here, moms share their experiences with unwanted questions—and the experts weigh in on the best way to handle them.

“Can I Touch Your Belly?”

True story: “When we announced my pregnancy to our family at my husband’s birthday party—I was almost 15 weeks—my grandmother, who I don’t really have a relationship with, walked up and poked me in the belly. As she left, she said she knew I was pregnant by how big I was. I said that poking me like that was not okay, and she replied that she was the baby's great-grandmother and could do whatever she wanted. When I said, no, this is my body and you can't do whatever you want, she replied that she was old, which made it okay. I told her that wasn’t an excuse for rudeness or inappropriateness.” —anskip

How to handle: It can be a shock when someone suddenly reaches out and touches you without asking, and the best way to respond is unique for each person. “You could say something lighthearted, like ‘I prefer you don’t—I feel like I’m being petted!’” Gottsman suggests. “That will get the message across without offending anyone.” It helps to understand that people sometimes can’t resist touching you because they want to be a part of the pregnancy experience. “It’s almost like strangers don’t see your pregnant belly as part of your body,” Conason explains. “You have to remind them that it is.”

“Are You Having Twins?”

True story: “I'm 5'4" and have a short torso, so after a while there's not much space for baby to go but out. When I was at work the last week before going on leave, the office tech guy asked me in front of a large group of people the "are you sure you've only got one in there?" question. I laughed and said, "Yep, just the one, but thanks for calling me fat." Luckily all of the women around me gave him hell afterwards. I know he was just kidding, but I'm not sure why anyone thinks that would be a funny joke. —soberkfell

How to handle: No matter how it’s phrased, inquiries about your weight can be offensive—and hurtful. “The most important thing to remember is that your body is doing exactly what it needs to do,” Conason says. “That’s different for every person. Some people gain more or less weight than others, and carry it in different places. When you start worrying too much about weight, it adds stress into the picture and could lead to you eating too little or exercising too much, which isn’t healthy for you or your baby. Listen to your body to guide you through your pregnancy.” As for responding to inappropriate questions about your size, “You can say, ‘Should I be offended by that comment?’” advises Gottsman. “But I think it’s best to say less and not engage the person. You’re already fighting hormones and emotions, so why stress yourself out because someone makes a rude comment?”

“Did You Conceive Naturally?”

True story: “My husband told his 88-year-old grandmother about the twins yesterday. The following comments ensued: ‘I'm surprised she wasn't pregnant the week after the wedding,’ and my personal favorite, ‘What, did you guys have to do IVF to get twins?’ He's really lucky I wasn't there because I would have unloaded on that old lady.” —shanparadise

How to handle: “That’s one of those questions that’s never appropriate,” Gottsman says. “You can reply, ‘Why do you ask?’ to hint that they’re being intrusive, and if they don’t catch on you can be more direct and say you don’t want to share that information. A response along those lines is assertive but polite, and you’re setting firm boundaries about protecting your privacy.” And really, when you think about it, what do questions about conceiving “naturally” even mean? As Conason says, “It doesn’t matter whether you had an assisted birth or used a surrogate—all pregnancy is natural.”

“Was the Baby Planned?”

True story: “I'm not close with my mother, and she asked if my husband and I had been trying after she told me how ‘shocked’ she was that I was pregnant. I replied bluntly: ‘Nope, we had no idea that having sex while not using birth control would lead to pregnancy.’ She then told me that because she's my mother she has the right to ask me that question. But does she? Like I said, we don't have that type of relationship. I'm still waiting for a simple congratulations from her. Ugh.” —rnyland1

How to handle: “In this case, your answer can be anything you want,” Gottsman says. “You can simply say, ‘We’re thrilled about this baby.’ You can make a joke out of it with something like, ‘I’ve been planning this baby since I first laid eyes on my husband.’ Or, ‘That’s such an odd question to ask, since it’s none of your business,’—because it truly isn’t.”

“Should You Really Be Eating That?”

True story: “I thought my mother-in-law was going to die when I talked about eating sushi in front of her. I can't stand people who act like they know better than my doctor about what I can and can't have. I’m a grown woman who’s more than capable of conducting my own risk assessments, thank you very much.” —stellaluna14

How to handle: Eating raw fish, enjoying a glass of wine, sipping a cup of coffee in the morning—there are so many diet decisions during pregnancy that are controversial, and people won’t hesitate to speak up if they think you’re eating or drinking something you shouldn’t be. “You can tell them you’ve consulted with your doctor about what’s okay and what’s not, or you can point out research showing that your choices are safe,” Conason says. “Thank them for their concern, but make it clear you’re doing what you feel is best.”

“What Do You Think You’re Having?”

True story: “People have commented that I’m ‘carrying high’ and assume the baby is a girl. When I tell someone that we don't know baby’s gender yet and they follow up with, ‘Well, what do you think it is?’ I respond with, ‘Don't hold me to it, but I've got an inkling it's a human.’" —nkyokley

How to handle: This one is a double whammy—commenting on your body is a no-no, and so is prying about gender. “It’s fair to put people in their place without mincing words by saying, ‘I find that comment about my body to be rude,’ or ‘I find that question distasteful,” Gottsman says. “You don’t have to be combative, just direct. And if you don’t want to share if you’re having a boy or a girl, you can say it’s your choice not to know the sex of the baby, or how it’s much more fun to be surprised.”

“Aren’t You Young to Be Having a Baby?”

True story: “My husband and I are 24 and have been married for almost three years, and I get comments from my coworkers like, ‘You really rushed into getting pregnant’ and ‘How are you going to go to grad school with a kid?’ I’ve mostly ignored the comments, until a few weeks ago, when I was like F this, and started responding to people’s comments by saying yeah, ‘I mean after this kid I really can’t do anything, so I should just quit my job now and give up!’ People are so rude; why can't they just worry about their own lives?” —adough27

How to handle: The question is out of line, but keep your retort short and sweet. “Just say, ‘it’s the right age for me, thanks,’” Conason advises, and then change the subject.

Published December 2017