Pregnancy Etiquette 101

October 18, 2016


From unwanted touching to rude comments, we asked mothers about their pet peeves during pregancies. Here’s what they told us.


You waddle.

You’re so big.

You’re not big enough.

The list of rude comments people have made to Ashley Greer during her three pregnancies is long. “Never ever comment on (a pregnant woman’s) size,” says the Stoney Creek, Ont., resident, who’s expecting her son Wyatt within weeks.

But when it comes to pregnancy etiquette, pointing out someone’s size is just the tip of the rudeness iceberg.

From unexpected belly rubbing to questions about their birthing choices, pregnant moms face etiquette fails most people never have to deal with, leaving many questioning why they’re stuck with those awkward moments in the first place. And when people aren’t sure what to say or do when it comes to pregnancy, etiquette experts say the resulting rudeness from this common scenario puts undue pressure on moms-to-be.

“Pregnancy isn’t easy,” says etiquette and protocol consultant Lisa Orr. “It’s an important task women play in society. As a community, we owe it to ourselves and these women to give them a little extra kindness.”

Giving pregnant women a seat on public transit is one example of extra kindness, and it’s a big focus in South Korea. In Seoul, you’ll find pink seats designated for moms-to-be on public transportation, and in Busan, the city is testing out a wireless sensor device to alert transit riders that the person carrying the device has a baby on the way.

What’s trickier to combat are the prying questions and insensitive judgments many moms face.

Tamara Robbins Griffith, a Toronto mother of two, faced a barrage of questions when she opted for a vaginal birth the second time around after having a caesarian section for her first baby. Some people questioned why she’d want to do that, citing the possible complications. “I think it’s rude when people make you feel like you’re putting your unborn child at risk,” she says.

Toronto mom Shana Tilbrook also recalls one weird experience at a party while she was pregnant. Someone asked to touch her belly, and she agreed. “He then stuck his face right up against my belly and started talking enthusiastically to my unborn baby for about a minute,” she says. “It made me feel very awkward.”

Another time, someone saw her from the back, and asked, “Are you sure you aren’t having twins? You look like you are.”

“You wouldn’t comment on a non-pregnant woman’s body, so why does that change when someone is pregnant?” Tilbrook continues. “You wouldn’t touch someone’s belly who isn’t pregnant, (so) why touch the belly of someone who is?”

It’s even more difficult when a pregnancy ends in loss. During her first two pregnancies, Greer had stillborn twin boys and a stillborn daughter, which prompted strange and awkward questions from friends and family: Was it something you did? Why do you talk about “them”? Since you won’t be using your baby clothes, can I give them to my daughter?

“For someone who has experienced loss before — help the parents remember their lost (child or children), not forget them,” Greer says. “Understand that this pregnancy may not be fun and exciting, but stressful and scary.”

With so many women facing this stuff, it’s time for a reality check — so we asked local etiquette gurus — including Orr, Louise Fox, owner of the Etiquette Ladies, and the Star’s etiquette expert Karen Cleveland — for their advice on the dos and don’ts of pregnancy politeness.


Don’t touch her belly. It might be tempting to reach out and rub a pregnant woman’s belly, but this rule is simple: Don’t do it. “Any kind of uninvited touching is inappropriate, whether it’s your best friend or some stranger,” says Fox. Even asking to touch someone can be awkward, so it’s best to wait for a mom to offer (and if she doesn’t — back off.)

Don’t offer unsolicited advice. “Don’t tell her how amazing or awful your birth was. Or whether she should have a midwife, a doula, be in a hospital or go hug a tree,” says Cleveland. “Truly: it’s not your business.”

Don’t comment on her size. Whether it’s her body size or the shape of her baby bump, just zip your lips, according to Orr. “It’s going to land in a negative way, and you’re making a lot of judgments,” she adds. “If you need to comment on their appearance, just say they look fabulous.”

Don’t ask when she’s due. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is asking someone’s due date, says Fox. “But maybe they’re not due,” she says. “Maybe they’re just a large person, or they put on weight, or they already had the baby.” It’s a recipe for awkwardness at best — and being totally insensitive and offensive at worst — so just avoid asking in the first place.


Do give up your seat. Offering pregnant women a seat on public transit is both a polite gesture and a bylaw, says etiquette and protocol consultant Lisa Orr. And that means speaking up and encouraging people to offer a seat even if you’re standing. “Even if the person doesn’t give up their seat, the pregnant woman has a much better day,” says Orr.

Do offer to help. If someone close to you says they’re having a baby, offer to help, be it giving them a ride if needed or babysitting when the bundle of joy arrives, suggests Fox.

Do take cues from the mom. “If she’s not taking the conversation too deep or intimate a place, follow her lead,” says Cleveland. And if you’re not sure what to say, keep it simple. “(Tell) the beautiful mom-to-be how awesome she looks and wish her the best of luck.”