Watch CBSN Live

What Is Appropriate To Say and Do to a Pregnant Woman--the Pregnancy Etiquette

For most of us the sight of a pregnant woman evokes feelings of joy and warmth, even protectiveness. But somewhere between our hearts and our lips, those expressions can turn awkward and embarrassing. Through her four pregnancies, Paula Spencer has experienced it all: from the tummy patting to the rude questions. Is it any wonder that she's written a book on the etiquette of pregnancy?

There's something about a pregnant woman that marks her as a target, sometimes for strangers' bumbling behavior and other times for the self-appointed pregnancy police. Who see it as their duty to comment on what she eats, how long she sleeps and whether or not she exercises. There are the Steven Kings, the tall taletellers who are intent on recounting horror stories of labor gone wrong. According the our guest, "people get carried away by the sight of a pregnant woman." But, like any other social experience, there is an etiquette surrounding pregnancy.

Probably no other phase of a woman's life evokes more notice or comment than pregnancy and rarely does she feel more vulnerable. In addition to the new life at the end of the ordeal, another of the upsides of pregnancy is the perks and rights that go with it. The pregnant woman needs only assert herself a little and the world is hers. If she's smart, she'll extend her pregnancy privileges until well after the baby's birth.

For most pregnant women, coworkers are a second family, we'll give tips and hints about how to share her joy, put her at ease and avoid embarrassing faux pas.

Interview with Paula Spencer

At the end of a long pregnancy, Paula Spencer was put on complete bed rest. Not easy when you have other small children at home. It was during this period that Paula began thinking that despite their best intentions, friends and family just didn't know what to offer or exactly what to say to encourage her. From that small observation came a review of the three pregnancies that came before the one that confined her to bed. And she decided that the etiquette surrounding pregnancy and birth was a book begging to be written.

The long and short of it is that pregnant women become public property. People feel free to ask a pregnant woman rude questions: things like how much weight have you gained? Or, to an older mother, did you have to take fertility drugs, or aren't you afraid of birth defects. Or asking a large pregnant woman if she's not carrying twins. Single mothers are asked to explain who the father is, why she isn't married. Older parents are also asked if they're not worried how much their lives will change and will they be able to keep up with a toddler. People will ask if the pregnancy was an accident, or slightly more tactfully, was it planned. People say terrible, terrible things and with the most sincere looks on their faces.

People get carried away a loat the sight of a pregnant woman, they do things they just wouldn't normally do to another person. They pat her belly, and whether it's their intention or not, they make her feel that she's lost her privacy, her looks, her intelligence.

What's the worst thing you can do to a pregnant woman? Tell labor stories from hell, or pass on your neighbor's horror story or dreadful old wives tale. Sometimes so-called well-meaning types will turn into the pregnancy police: they question everything you do, as if you're public property: Why are you drinking coffee? Are you really eating a crispy cream, is that good for the baby? Should you be crossing your legs?

On the other hand, a pregnant woman has certain rights from humorous to serious if she chooses to exercise them. It's the perfect time for her to learn to assert herself.

Can a pregnant woman cut in restroom line?

Yep, just waddle up to the front of line, say please it's an emergency, do you mind if I cut in? It does require speaking up, sad to say many people will ignore a pregnant woman, so it's up to you to speak up. Say, you'd like a seat in the bus. You just walk up to someone and say would you mind letting me sit down? People can be awfully kind about these things. Take advantage of stork spots, special parking slots for pregnant women, now at many stores and malls. If you have a reason you shouldn't be on your feet, by all means ask to sit down. It's a fine line between using and not abusing privileges, but it is good to realize you have them.

If she's smart, she'll extend these special privileges even after the baby's born. Such as wearing a bathrobe when friends and family come to visit. It sends the message that she's still recuperating and that she won't be playing hostess in her normal way. She can also excuse herself from her normal social correspondence and e-mail. It's fine to let people know in advance that you'll not be answering their notes.

Working women spend much of their pregnancy on the job. Since colleagues are hardly strangers, there's this added layer of intimacy and coworkers may not know exactly how to respond.

It's fine to offer a pregnant coworker the most comfortable seat in a meeting. It's thoughtful to offer to get her a snack or beverage from a vending machine. It's great to tell her that she really is glowing and looking wonderful, it's not great to say that you notice she can no longer button her blazer. Try not to flatten yourself against the wall when she walks by. And, if you want to give her a really big gift, go for a couple of days without even mentioning her pregnancy. Whatever you do, look in her eyes when you speak to her and not her belly. And don't keep her away from VIP's or important clients.

©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue