We Need To Stop Policing Pregnant Women's Bodies

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy, Bettmann/Getty and Garon Piceli/Pexels

Can we just talk about how incredibly annoying it is to get unsolicited advice the entire time you are carrying a child? I mean, every. single. thing a pregnant woman does opens her up to possible scrutiny. I am visibly pregnant for the third time, but this is the first time I’ve been pregnant since I started writing on the internet for a living. One thing I have learned is people on the internet just love policing pregnant women’s bodies.

It’s not just the internet, though. People in real life do it just as often. Sometimes they make an effort to be subtle, and sometimes they don’t. It’s obnoxious either way. Like we need more people telling us what to do with our bodies while we are trying to focus on the business of growing another human. Pregnancy already comes with some hard and fast “don’ts,” and we just don’t need a million opinions on top of them.

Not to mention, women’s bodies are already policed at every turn! In the USA, a bunch of old white men get to make crucial decisions regarding all women’s legal reproductive rights. As if we aren’t policed enough by their bullshit policies, laws and restrictions. As if the arbitrary rules that limit access to affordable reproductive care and criminalize necessary medical procedures aren’t enough — regular people do it to each other, too. Women even do it to other women! We pass judgments about what people should and shouldn’t be doing with their own bodies all the time. Add a pregnancy, and the entire process increases by a million percent.

It’s the worst.

Policing pregnant women’s choices can make the natural worries of pregnancy even worse. When I was a first-time pregnant mom, I would not even take a Tylenol during pregnancy. I read every food label, searching for hidden artificial sweeteners, and wouldn’t lift anything heavy, just in case. I never even considered drinking caffeine. Actually, I once called my OB crying because I took a sip of my husband’s Dr. Pepper by accident. The entire time, I felt terrified I would hurt my baby. I didn’t need one more person offering their suggestions about what I should and shouldn’t do during pregnancy. I was being as cautious as I could possibly be.

Now, I’m working on my third baby, and things are different for me. I have relaxed a little. But one thing hasn’t changed: I still don’t need anyone telling me how to have a pregnant body. No pregnant woman does.

That doesn’t stop it from happening.

Matthew Henry/Burst

I am fat, and I just don’t gain weight when I am pregnant. Both times I have put on a few pounds right at the end, but I go home from the hospital lighter than when I got pregnant. This pregnancy is on track to be the same way. My healthcare providers assure me that it’s perfectly fine for me to lose weight or not gain any as long as I am able to eat sufficiently and take my vitamins.

That didn’t stop one nurse from telling me that I “shouldn’t diet during pregnancy.” Both times I saw her, she treated me like I was obsessed with my weight. In reality, I was eating well, and I never even stepped on a scale unless I was at the doctor.

A friend of mine has two children, and with both pregnancies she continually received unsolicited advice about how to prepare her breasts for nursing. Her personal history and her busy career made formula her best choice. There was no question in her mind, and nursing was never on the table. Despite her clear decision early on, people sent her links to studies about the benefits of breastmilk, the best breast pumps, making nursing work a working mom, and more. Her ability to properly feed her own children was in question before she even had a baby bump. Absurd.

One mom I recently spoke to had recurrent UTIs during pregnancy, and she needed to take a few rounds of antibiotics. Her particular prescriptions have been extensively studied and proven safe. When my friend made a comment about how active her baby was, her co-worker told her that her child was probably having seizures in utero from “all that medicine.” Ridiculous! What was her other option? Just ignore the fact that an untreated UTI can cause kidney infections (and even early labor!) because Co-Worker Karen in her infinite wisdom has decided antibiotics cause fetal seizure disorders?

Obviously, some things are categorically unsafe. But a cup of coffee or an aerobics class is not that life-and-death scenario, and we all know it. We gotta rein it in.

It just never ends. Even more annoyingly, the judgment is not even consistent!

One person will tell you to avoid cold cuts at all costs because they are riddled with listeria. The next person will roll their eyes and call you paranoid if you won’t eat a turkey sandwich.

Your cranky old aunt will judge you for drinking a cup of coffee, but your girlfriend will offer you a glass of wine with some story about how everyone drinks during pregnancy in Europe.

The cashier at the grocery store will act like your spin class might scramble your baby’s brains, but your sister will warn you not to stop exercising or you’ll never have the strength to push that baby out!

Every aspect of pregnancy is a potential topic for public scrutiny. It’s exhausting to answer (or outright refuse to answer) questions about your body and your medical history just because your growing abdomen makes it clear that you have reproduced.

It can feel like open season on a woman’s every choice from the minute she announces a pregnancy, and we just need to knock it off.

Stop policing pregnant women.

In most cases, nobody is more concerned about the well-being of a baby in utero than its mother. Pregnant women weigh the pros and cons of every single choice. And we grow. A first-time mom might be more conservative than a mom who has been around the block a few times. She’s not wrong for relaxing. She’s learned a thing or two.

I know pregnancy and welcoming a baby can be very exciting and joyful times for many pregnant people. Some of the intrusive questions come from well-meaning people trying to take an interest in our happy time. Sometimes unsolicited advice is someone’s attempt to pass on their wisdom. I understand that it’s not always intended as policing pregnant women or judging their choices, and I do my best to be patient in scenarios like that.

But minding your own business is almost always the best policy, especially when it comes to someone else’s pregnancy.

We have access to more information than ever before in human history. We can trust most women to do the research required to make good choices for ourselves and our unborn children.

Women are amazing. We’ve got this.

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