Although our society often reveres and protects pregnant women, we also have a way of criticizing, judging, blatantly questioning, and shaming nearly every move they make during their pregnancies. We shame pregnant women for everything from how they eat, to what they wear, and how much they exercise. I've never been pregnant myself, but I've witnessed enough shaming from both of my sister's pregnancies to know that no matter what you do during your pregnancy, someone will shame you before it's over.
Pregnant women, much like non-pregnant women, face a near-constant stream of criticism for what they decide to do with their own bodies — and the worst part is, all this shaming is committed under the guise of genuine concern for both mother and baby. Of course, we should care about the health of those around us, and pregnant women's bodies are certainly under a lot more stress than the average human's. That said, concern and judgement are not the same thing — and, ultimately, grown women don't need anyone (except maybe their physicians) to tell them how to handle their pregnancy.
We live in a culture where it is deemed acceptable to tell women what to do with their bodies because it is widely believed (perhaps subconsciously) that women are unaware, or somehow unqualified to, make those decisions all by themselves. Unfortunately, because of this sad fact, it's quite possible that you've shamed pregnant women without even intending to (I know I have). Fortunately, once you make yourself aware of the ways pregnant women are shamed by society, it's much easier not to make the same mistakes.
1. The Tightness & Sexiness Of Their Maternity Clothes
I won't lie to you: seeing pregnant women in tight-fitting clothes used to make me a little bit uncomfortable, and I think it still bothers a lot of people. It seems to be an unspoken "rule" that pregnant woman are supposed to wear loose-fitting, modest outfits whenever they're out in public, so seeing a pregnant lady in a form-fitting, low-cut, or sheer dress is less expected and thus more surprising.
I don't know if this "rule" exists because our society doesn't want to see the roundness of pregnant women, (which is just straight up body shaming) or if it's because whenever we see pregnant women, we subconsciously associate their pregnancy with our own mothers, and therefore find the thought of sexualizing them personally upsetting. Either way, pregnant women should be able to wear whatever the hell they want, and they should get to feel good about it. (Plus, they happen to look great!)
2. What They Eat & Drink
I think most of us know there are certain foods and drinks pregnant women are advised to avoid. Coffee, sushi, alcohol, and even certain cheeses are literally "off the table" for pregnant women. That said, every pregnancy is different, and not every culture suggests the same dietary restrictions for pregnancy that your culture might. So if you see a pregnant woman sipping a coffee, leave her alone! For all you know, her physician has given her "permission" to drink half of a cup per day, or it's decaf. Plus, you know, she's an adult.
3. Exercising Too Much Or Too Hard
You've probably already heard about Sophie Guidolin, but just in case you haven't, I'll fill you in. Guidolin is an Australian model and weightlifter who didn't let her pregnancy keep her from working out. However, she did make sure to consult her doctor about how she should modify her workouts during her pregnancy. Despite all of this, she was concern-trolled like crazy for weightlifting while pregnant, and for being "too skinny" during her pregnancy.
Guidolin's experience is an excellent example of how entitled complete strangers feel to shame pregnant women for lifting too much or working out too hard while pregnant. Again, most of the people who shame pregnant women for exercising probably think their comments aren't offensive because they come from a place of concern — but it is never OK to tell a woman what to do with her own body, and some women can safely work out while pregnant.
4. Exercising Too Little
Pregnant women just can't seem to win on the whole exercise front. Just as they're shamed for working out too hard, pregnant women are also shamed for not exercising enough. The thing is, while it is true that staying active is recommended during pregnancy, some pregnancies are just really, really tough — and taking it easy during (and sometimes right after) pregnancy is very important for many high-risk cases. For example, both of my sister's pregnancies were so difficult from start to finish that she was put on bed-rest because of complications from her preeclampsia.
If a woman is going through an especially challenging pregnancy, it makes sense that exercising isn't her top priority — because in certain cases, exercise can do way more harm than good to a pregnant woman and her baby.
5. Missing Alcohol
Obviously, drinking while pregnant is never really safe, but pregnant women shouldn't be judged simply for wanting to have a drink. I mean, their bodies are going through a crazy amount of uncomfortable changes, just the thought of labor and delivery is terrifying, and pregnancy isn't even the hardest thing they're signing up for. Of course they want a drink!
Don't shame them for wishing they could take the edge off in the normal, adult way they've grown accustomed to — because even if you've been pregnant yourself, you really don't know exactly what they're going through right now.
6. Feeling Scared/Depressed/Ambivalent (AKA Anything But Excited)
It is totally normal for a pregnant woman to feel scared, depressed, or even ambivalent about the huge change that's about to upend her entire life. Plus, like we've established, being pregnant can be super uncomfortable, challenging, and scary — both physically and emotionally. If a woman trusts you enough to confide her feelings, you should never shame her for feeling anything less than excited about the huge change that's about to happen in her life.
Instead, you might just try listening to her.