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"Don't Touch My Belly"... How to Set Healthy Boundaries During Pregnancy

Updated: Dec 14, 2022



When you're pregnant a strange phenomenon happens where people feel entitled to offer advice, touch your belly give antidotes about birth and parenting. Managing unsolicited advice and comments from family, friends, colleagues, and strangers about your choices as a parent and about how you birth your baby seems to be a challenge faced by most pregnant people. Here are some ways to establish healthy boundaries so you can mitigate these uncomfortable situations.


You Have the Right to Set Boundaries


Before we talk about how to set boundaries I want to remind you that you have every right to establish boundaries. So many of us are conditioned to be nonconfrontational and prioritize the comfort of others over our own. The truth is when we try to change the way we react to make others comfortable, we pave a path to burnout. This is not healthy for you and this is not a healthy habit to model for your children.


If you are not used to setting boundaries it can feel uncomfortable to start. Boundaries are a radical form of self-love. Remind yourself that setting boundaries help you to show up as your full self and parent as your full self. Take a moment to review some of the strategies below and practice them. They might feel awkward at first but it will come more naturally with practice. The earlier you set boundaries in pregnancy the easier it will be to enforce them.


Touching You or Your Pregnant Belly


So many people think it is okay to touch someone's belly when they are pregnant WITHOUT asking for permission. While some love getting their belly rubbed and others don't, no one should touch you without asking for permission. This rule goes for any stage of life. It doesn't matter if they are family or close friends or doctors, everyone should ask for your permission.

Whenever someone comes in for an unwelcomed belly rub you have every right to draw the line. If they are coming in to touch your belly without asking for permission you can physically remove their hand, step back, or stand up. If someone has asked for permission to touch your belly and you do not feel comfortable with them doing so, here are some helpful phrases, beyond a simple "no thank you" that you might find helpful.

  • “I’d rather you didn’t touch my belly. Thank you for asking.”

  • “No thanks, I’ve had my daily dose of belly rubs.”

  • “I appreciate your care, but no thank you. I’m sensitive to touch right now.”

  • “No thank you. I don’t like people touching my belly. My motherly instincts have kicked in already.”

  • “Would you like to talk to my baby instead? She responds better to sounds.”

It is also important to know that your care providers should also be asking permission to touch you during your prenatal visits and birth. Vaginal exams and cervical checks should all be prefaced with active consent. Sometimes you will hear language like "we are going to check you now" during birth or a prenatal visit. This is NOT consent. If your provider is not asking for permission to conduct a vaginal exam or cervical check, you have every right to ask them to get consent from you before this procedure.


Cutting Down On Unsolicited Advice


It can feel like everyone has some advice to offer about pregnancy, birth, and parenting. When you're already dealing with information overload during pregnancy, it can be so overwhelming to hear advice and opinions from so many people. You are already so focused on trying to do everything right, this influx of information can be entirely unhelpful.


You might consider establishing a few core friends who you seek advice from and firmly set boundaries with others so that they don't continue asking. Some ways you can set those boundaries include phrases like...

  • “Thanks for sharing, but I prefer to listen to my doctor/midwife/doula/ own intuition.”

  • “Sorry, but I’m getting a lot of advice and I can’t listen to it all because it’s overwhelming.”

  • “I know you’re trying to help, but the advice only makes me more anxious.”

  • "Thank you for trying to help me. I will come and ask you for advice when I need it. At the moment I am getting overloaded with suggestions and it's really hard for me to hear suggestions at this time."

Responding to Personal or Off Color Questions


While often well-meaning, people can pass a line by asking overly personal questions during pregnancy. From asking about how the baby has conceived or your birth plans. Moreover, offensive or off-color questions can be asked. LGBTQIA2S+ and BIPOC pregnant folks often deal with a host of micro-aggressions ranging from conception questions or off-color comments about the gender roles of parenting styles.

"Why are you not circumcising your baby? It isn't going to hurt while he's a baby."

Intrusive comments or questions can often catch you off guard, making them hard to respond to. Here are some ways to respond and set a boundary.

  • “It’s a little personal to answer but thanks for caring.”

  • “We’re focused less on the details and more on enjoying the pregnancy.”

  • “We don’t really talk about things like that.”

  • “We’re not ready to share that yet.”

  • “We’ll just say we’re really lucky to be pregnant.”


Comments About Your Body


A lot of people comment on people's belly and their bodies during pregnancy and postpartum. While our bodies are AMAZING in their shape-shifting power, pregnancy can bring up a lot of challenging feelings about your body image. This means comments about our body, good or bad, can be challenging to hear.

"Oh My goodness you're so big! You look like you're gonna pop!"

If someone comments on your body at any point it's okay to set boundaries. Here are some statements that will help set these boundaries.

  • “I’m still getting used to my changing body and it's hard to hear comments about my body at this time."

  • "Comments about my belly make me uncomfortable. I'd prefer a simple 'congratulations' next time."

  • "My body is a sensitive subject for me, I'd rather not talk about it."


Stopping People from Telling Birth Horror Stories

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I cannot understand why anyone would think it is okay to tell their birth horror stories to someone who is pregnant. Birth trauma is extremely unfortunate but there is a time and place to process that which likely doesn't involve pregnant people.


The bottom line is that it can be very anxiety-provoking to hear about someone's birth trauma while pregnant. Fear-based "hopes" like the one below are also harmful. You have every right to set boundaries about what people share with you during your pregnancy.


"Your baby is gonna be so big, you better hope she doesn't tear you!"

It can feel awkward to have to ask someone to be quiet or interrupt them. But the more you get used to it, the easier it will be and the less often you will need to establish the boundary because people will understand what they shouldn't say around you.


Some helpful phrases to ask people not to share birth horror stories are:

  • “I’d love to hear this story, but can we wait until after I’ve given birth?”

  • “I’m feeling anxious about giving birth and I know you don’t mean to, but stories like this make it worse.”

  • “I’m sorry you had a bad experience, I’m just trying to focus on having a good one so I can’t entertain those types of stories.”

  • “I’m scared of labor already and I need to hear positive stories only.”

  • “I’m trying to keep a positive mindset about labor, so I try not to listen to other people’s stories right now.”


Next Steps


It can be a challenge to set boundaries when you are confronted in the moment. Knowing what boundaries you want and how to state them can be a game-changer. Sometimes it's hard to react quickly and a one-on-one conversation with a family member is a more aligned approach. You can lean on your partner and friends to help you set clear boundaries when it comes to their family members and friends.


I have personally struggled to set boundaries and am consistently working to get better. Sometimes I practice with myself or a friend to get more comfortable stating my boundaries before I have a conversation about them. Taking some time to reflect can be helpful, especially when you know you'll be confronted with people who tend to break those boundaries.


The truth is, the majority of people are not aware that their comments or questions are having a negative impact on you. When you set your boundaries or have a conversation with them more often than not they will understand and respect you for advocating for your needs.


 

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Meet the Author

Clara O'Rourke (she hers),
Holistic Doula & Childbirth Educator.

I am a researcher turned total birth nerd with a passion for supporting people's birth in their full power! I guide people through their pregnancy, labor, and postpartum journey by helping them overcome fear or anxiety about birth, providing evidence-based information so they can make informed decisions, and making sure they have everything they need to birth with confidence. Birth is sacred and it should be treated that way. I am committed to providing support for birth and beyond, regardless of a person's background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or relationship status. También ofrezco mis servicios en español. I wish you and your growing family the brightest of beginnings!


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