You have an excuse: pregnant women in their third trimester biologically need more personal space
Pregnancy changes us in so many ways. Sure, we get increasingly huge over nine months, but a lot of other things happen, too, and many of these changes are super tough. Some women get nauseous during the first trimester (or longer), more emotional as those hormones shift, and more likely to “nest” during the final few months. Now a new study, the first of its kind, has found that women in their third trimester of pregnancy also likely to require a significantly larger bubble of “personal space” than other people.
Yep, that sounds about right.
The study, which was conducted by Anglia Ruskin University in conjunction with Addenbrooke’s Hospital, found that while the “peripersonal space,” or personal bubble, of women is about the same if they’re early in pregnancy, not pregnant, or postpartum, women who are around 34 weeks pregnant need more empty, quiet space around them in order to feel safe and secure.
In other words, get the hell away from super pregnant women. And absolutely, for the love of Pete, ask before touching them.
“Our results suggest that when the body undergoes significantly large changes, at the stage when the abdomen is clearly expanded, the maternal brain also begins to make adjustments to the space immediately surrounding the body,” said Flavia Cardini, a professor at Anglia Ruskin University.
The study, which was published in the latest issue of Scientific Reports, conducted a series of tests on dozens of women in various states: not pregnant, 20 weeks pregnant, 34 weeks pregnant, and eight weeks postpartum. The women were confronted with tapping and sound in order to determine the limits of their personal space — and only the 34-weekers needed way more room to themselves.
Researchers believe that this space is needed simply because women are bigger and need to protect their baby from harm.
“Peripersonal space is considered a ‘safety bubble’ and it’s possible that the observed expansion of this at the late stage of pregnancy might be aimed at protecting the vulnerable abdomen during the mother’s daily interactions,” Cardini said. “So as the mother’s bump grows, in effect, the expanded peripersonal space is the brain’s way of ensuring danger is kept at arm’s length.”
But in addition to the changing shape of the mother’s body, chemical changes in her brain are also making certain that women are more wary of what’s around them and how it will affect her and her kid. It’s an evolutionary phenomenon that keeps moms and babies safe until delivery, when everything will shift again.
“Pregnancy involves massive and rapid changes to the body both externally, as the body suddenly changes shape, and internally, while the fetus is growing,” Cardini said.
What can we learn from this? Don’t be surprised when, during your third trimester, you might need a little bit more room, whether you’re watching a movie on the couch with your family, standing in line at the grocery store, or even sharing a bed. It’s not just in your mind — thousands of years of evolution are on your side and helping you protect your fetus. It’s not you being a jerk, or you being sensitive, or you being a knocked up diva: your body is literally asking you to give it more space.
In other words: don’t be afraid to tell people you need some space. And if you’re not pregnant but know someone who is, don’t be surprised if they hold you at arm’s length for a while near the end of their pregnancy, or if her definition of arm’s length is farther away than it usually is.