What Not to Say to a Pregnant or Postpartum Mother… and What to Say Instead

What Not to Say to a Pregnant or Postpartum Mother… and What to Say Instead September 14, 2020Leave a comment

Ending Mom Shaming

More often than not we don’t know the full story behind why a mom is choosing to do what she is doing. Celebrity mom Chrissy Tiegen shares that she has experienced plenty of mom shaming: “It’s pretty much everything,” Teigen told Todaywith the majority of comments centered on how she feeds her kids, uses her car seats and screen time.

It seems that when someone gets pregnant or becomes a mom a lot of advice or opinions are given, requested or not. Sometimes these comments come from a well-meaning place, other times it doesn’t. Some comments may come from people you know, but other times they come from acquaintances or even strangers.

Not all (unwanted) comments come from people without children. Some come from other moms. Comments such as, ‘Why aren’t you breastfeeding? You should be breastfeeding,’ or ‘Why aren’t you using formula? You should be bottle feeding with formula’.

When Comments Sting

When you hear an unexpected comment about the choices you made while pregnant or as a mother, it can come as a surprise. Even if it seems harmless and trivial to the speaker, it can derail the day of the person it was directed at.

Here are some examples of questions and comments that are unhelpful:

While Pregnant

  • Birth is so painful. Why are you having a baby?
  • I don’t like that name.
  • Was it planned?
  • How long did it take to for you to get pregnant?
  • You look like you’re about to pop!
  • Your belly is so big/small! *
  • I thought that since you’ve been together for so long without kids you didn’t want any.
  • Was this planned?
  • You’re carrying so low/high.
  • Good luck, do you know what you’re getting into?
  • How does your partner/do your parents feel about you getting pregnant (again)?
  • Should you be eating that?

During Postpartum

  • Why are/aren’t you going back to work?
  • Why aren’t you giving your child a sibling? or Why are you having (insert number) of kids?
  • You still look pregnant.
  • You should/shouldn’t be breastfeeding/using formula. You’re not trying hard enough.
  • Why are/aren’t you co-sleeping?
  • You just need… (fill in the blank)
  • Why haven’t you lost the baby weight yet?
  • You’ve lost a lot of weight.
  • They grow up so fast, enjoy it while it lasts!
  • You should be happy. You and your baby are healthy.
  • It’s just mood swings, all moms feel that way.

Mom may already be experiencing worry over her belly size, weight or breasts changing shape. Making comments about her body (unless you’re her healthcare provider with a valid medical reason) can increase her stress. She may already feel concern about this and has been in dialogue with her doctor, or she may be struggling with body image.

Here’s what to say instead: “You’re so beautiful. How are you feeling?” Alternatively, it’s okay to say nothing at all. It’s okay to let there be silence rather than try to make conversation if the alternative is a comment that isn’t helpful and supportive.

Anxiety and depression may be hard to understand. While the speaker may feel like they’ve ‘been there’ and ‘know what the other mom is going through,’ it’s important to avoid minimizing what Mom may be feeling. [1]

>> Wondering how you can navigate the difficulties that sometimes arise in social situations with  conversations and comments about what you’re not doing right, what you should be doing, or horror stories of birthing or parenting? Here’s how.

What If You’re Asking?

Comments and questions about someone’s personal choices and situations are just that – they’re personal. Try to make sure the listener is receptive before asking. It can feel intrusive to be asked something so personal, especially if you’re not close.

Ask yourself, am I really looking for an answer or am I just saying this phrased as a question to satisfy my own curiosity? And if I am the one asking, am I doing it from a place of love where I am seeking to understand and support this mom?

Being on the Receiving End of a Personal Question

What can you do if you are on the receiving end of a personal question? It can get tiring trying to explain and justify your decisions. If you have time, try considering where the person asking the question is coming from. Is he/she asking from a place of genuine care where they want to understand and be supportive? If so, great! Ask for a moment to gather your thoughts if necessary, instead of immediately going on the defense. If you are caught off guard, or simply feel uncomfortable, just say, ‘I’m not going to answer that.’

Remember, part of protecting your mental health is guarding your energy levels and choosing where to spend it. If answering questions doesn’t feel constructive, you are allowed to say ‘I’m not going to answer that,’ and leave it at that. As long as your choices are supported by your healthcare provider and both you and your baby are healthy and happy, that’s okay. You are not obligated to give an explanation to everyone.

>> Are you struggling with loneliness? Here’s why moms may be feeling extra lonely right now.

Where We Can Go From Here

We can all try to be mindful of how we speak – even the mothers among us. Dr. Sandra from @the.mommy.psychologist on Instagram put it well by saying, ‘Sometimes (Mom) doesn’t want advice. Just a hand to hold and an ear to listen.’ May we all have the courage to let go of our past mistakes and move forward as kinder listeners.

>> Are you interested in checking yourself for positive mental health in pregnancy? You can do that here.


[1] Lynne Choate, May 18, 2016, “What not to say to a new mom,” Norton Healthcare, https://nortonhealthcare.com/news/what-not-to-say-to-a-new-mom/

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