There’s Finally Science to Prove That Pregnant Women Need Their Personal Space

PSA to anyone who tries to touch an expectant mom’s belly.
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By Stephanie Grassullo, Associate Editor
Published July 2, 2019
woman in her third trimester of pregnancy
Image: Irina Murza

A mother’s instinct starts kicking in before baby even arrives. In fact, new research published in the journal Scientific Reports says a woman undergoes significant mental and physical changes during the third trimester.

The study specifically looked at pregnant women’s need for peripersonal space—the immediate area surrounding our bodies that our brains constantly monitor. Commonly referred to as “personal space” or a “safety bubble,” it’s the area where the majority of interactions occur, and usually within arm’s length of another person.

Scientists used an audio-tactile test to measure the boundaries of peripersonal space during pregnancy. They tested women who were not pregnant, as well as women in their second trimester when the stomach is beginning to grow, third trimester when the bump is clearly visible and women who were eight weeks post-birth. They found a pregnant women’s sense of personal space expands during the third trimester of pregnancy. No changes were observed at earlier stages of pregnancy or after giving birth, when the stomach is typically more comparable to that of someone who isn’t pregnant.

“Our results suggest that when the body undergoes significantly large changes, at the stage when the abdomen is clearly expanded, the maternal brain also begins to make adjustments to the space immediately surrounding the body,” explains lead author Dr. Flavia Cardini, senior lecturer in psychology at Anglia Ruskin University. “So as the mother’s bump grows, in effect the expanded peripersonal space is the brain’s way of ensuring danger is kept at arm’s length.”

In other words, stop touching your friend’s—or that stranger you just met’s—belly!

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