5 Great Ways to Support Your Pregnant Friends (None of Which Involve Touching Their Belly)
If you've spent any amount of time around pregnancy blogs/forums/boards, you'll know that generally, pregnant people don't want random belly touches. I can understand why people touch pregnant people's bellies: they're simply excited and want to feel like they're supporting the pregnant person. While the motivation might be genuinely well-meaning, the action isn't exactly always helpful (and can actually make some people feel very uncomfortable). As a doula, I frequently work around people who are wanting to authentically support their pregnant friends, but aren't always sure how to do it (cue an awkward discussion, confused communication, or the dreaded belly touch). Here are a few tips for how to support your pregnant friends, no belly touches necessary:
1. Really, truly ask how they're doing.
When some people are pregnant, they can feel like they themselves disappear behind the experience of being pregnant. For a pregnant person, the question "How are you doing?" can morph into actually meaning "How is your pregnancy/baby?" While it's great to talk with your friend about their pregnancy and be enthusiastic for them, give them an opening to talk about other parts of their life, too. It can be as simple as asking a question like "How was your weekend?", "What's going on at work?", or "Are you watching/reading anything good lately?" Your friend might really appreciate the opportunity to discuss something other than how they're not really craving a pickle-ice cream sundae or what size of fruit/vegetable their baby currently compares to.
2. If your friend seems interested in talking about pregnancy, go with the flow.
On the flip side of previous tip, your friend actually might not have a lot of people talking with them about how their pregnancy is going. This can be unfortunately more common for people who have been pregnant before (as people might assume things are "the same as usual" for your friend) and can result in your pregnant friend feeling like no one cares about them. If your friend seems to be sharing more frequently with you about their pregnancy or is hinting that they're interested in talking more about it, take time to listen and ask questions. If you're someone who hasn't had a baby before, I know the discussion might feel a little weird. This article can give you a good, low-key vibe for the type of talk to strive for: encouraging, loving, and still a normal discussion you'd have as friends. You don't need to be a doula to make pregnant people feel special. Strive for authenticity. Everyone wants to feel heard.
3. If you have or have heard a horrible birth story, now is not the time to share it.
Imagine you've been planning to go to this one restaurant for months. A lot of people you know have been there, the reviews seem great, and the photos inside look super cute. The date of your reservation is coming up and you're so excited that you mention to one of your friends that you're going there.
"Oh, that place?" they say. "Everyone says it's great, but it's not. The wait for a table was waaaaay too long and the eggplant parmesan isn't good."
"Huh," you say. "I mean, we have a reservation and I'm not planning on ordering eggplant parmesan, so I'm sure it'll be okay."
"I didn't plan on ordering eggplant parmesan," your friend says, "but that's what I ended up with. I had to eat the whole thing and it was maybe the worst night of my life. Anyway, what time's your reservation?"
(I'm sure you're already aware, but this is a metaphor. The "restaurant" is labor/birth. You are welcome to have your own experiences, opinions, and thoughts about the restaurant. However, please do not be the friend that ruins the restaurant for others. If your friend specifically asks you about your own restaurant experience or reviews you've read, you should be honest but generally positive. Your friend is inevitably going to the restaurant and you want them to have as positive of an experience there as possible. If you need to talk with someone about your restaurant experience, share with a supportive friend who is not currently pregnant.)
4. If there's a "mocktail", make it happen.
During the Christmas season, my husband and I host a big friend White Elephant party. While we both love making cocktails, we always make sure that there are several non-alcoholic but still "fancy" mocktails available for sober attendees, because no one should feel left out/less special (also, mocktails are delicious, even if the word "mocktail" is sorta cringey.)
If your friend group typically likes to do activities that aren't necessarily pregnancy friendly, find the equivalent "mocktail" and make it happen for your pregnant friend if they're interested. Going out for sushi? Share rolls with your friend that have cooked components (or, depending on your friend's approach to pregnancy and their practitioner's advice, confirm with the kitchen that they freeze their fish first). Planning to visit a brewery? Make sure there's craft root beer on tap. Going to Adventureland? Now's the time for some *choice* Lazy River time.
No one likes to feel left out. Put yourself in the shoes of your pregnant friend and be proactive in trying to provide ways that they don't feel left out of the action.
5. Remember that they're still your friend, they just happen to be pregnant now.
Yes, there may be some things about your friend that have changed since they've become pregnant. There may also be some things that change about them after they give birth. This is okay and this will be okay.
Just don't treat your friend like they're suddenly wildly different or breakable. At their core, they are and still will be the same person you've shared wonderful memories with. They just happen to be pregnant now.