Announcing to your friends and family that you are having a baby is an exciting time. If you’ve chosen to wait until the 12-13 week mark to be safe then chances are you are bursting to share the news and finally explain why you have been turning down those glasses of wine at your recent catch-ups.
While, for the most part, sharing news of your pregnancy will be met with excited squeals and the usual questions of how you’re feeling and whether you are finding out the sex, it can also be met with the thing that I have come to discover is the bane of a pregnant person’s existence.
That’s right, I am talking about unsolicited advice and I am here to respectfully ask, on behalf of my pregnant mates and myself to please, just stop it.
For me, it started almost immediately. I shared the news around the seven-week mark with a friend I have known all my life and was instantly met with “I have so much to teach you!” before she launched into some rant about what belly oil to use or something. I don’t know exactly what she said because all I could focus on was how irritated I was.
Yes, she meant so well and just wanted to share the experience with me as we’ve been mates for 40 years, but my back was instantly up. For one thing, while I love my friend dearly and think she is a wonderful mother, our approaches to parenting could not be more different. Secondly, it bothered me that she didn’t ask if there was any advice I’d like first before launching into a ten-minute tirade about something I didn’t want or need guidance on.
Come to think of it, the unwanted advice started coming before I was even pregnant when one of my mates, who knew my partner and I were trying, decided to tell me all the reasons why the prenatal vitamin I was taking was terrible. Just what I wanted to hear.
I’ll reiterate again, these comments are, nine times out of ten, given with the best of intentions but they can add to an already overwhelming time.
Pregnancy and parenthood is such a strange duality of being very universal and yet deeply unique. No two experiences are the same which is probably why everyone wants to share theirs — we are all looking to connect with someone else on the weird, wild and sometimes lonely journey that is creating and raising another human being.
That being said, it’s important to please remember a few things before offering up a bunch of advice to someone who didn’t ask for it.
- Chances are, they are already plagued with thoughts that they might not make a great parent and are unqualified to have a baby. Bombarding them with your own opinions and experiences can sometimes add to these feelings by inadvertently making them feel inadequate at best and like a terrible parent-to-be at worst.
- You may have noticed that we live in the age of information. Between Google, social media, dedicated websites and organisations and baby books for every type of parent out there, most expectant parents are well equipped, if not over-saturated, with information on how to keep a tiny human alive and how to prepare for their arrival. So before you go adding your two cents, try to think if it’s genuinely valuable information or if you’ll just be adding to the noise.
- As I mentioned before, no two experiences are the same so sharing what worked or didn’t work for you could be time better spent just revelling in your friend’s good news. Additionally, if you had a rough pregnancy or birth, going into detail about it uninvited might cause your friend more stress rather than make them feel informed.
Amanda Bardas, publisher at Val Morgan Digital and mother of a one-year-old daughter, also notes that telling a pregnant person to “sleep now before the baby comes” (which everyone does as though it’s some big secret that having a kid impacts your shut-eye) starts setting emphasis on sleep as the marker of success as a parent before the baby is even born. All babies sleep differently — as do all adults!
“Sleep for me while pregnant was hard,” says Bardas. “My legs cramped up, I had bouts of insomnia, and I was constantly anxious about waking up on my back (which is the position I often like to sleep in, but is not advised during pregnancy).
“Being told to “sleep now” made me more anxious over the fact I wasn’t getting great sleep and in turn I’d sleep less. After the baby was born I actually had the best sleep because I could finally get comfortable. Plus, I was breastfeeding, which means I was producing prolactin – a hormone that helped me (and baby) fall asleep easier and faster. So there.”
Of course, there is an element of community involved in childbirth and child-rearing, and one that many parents find invaluable. I’m merely pointing out that very few people, pregnant or not, enjoy receiving advice they didn’t request. A few simple ways to ensure your helpful hints are going to the right person at the right time are:
- Ask first. Don’t just verbally vomit everything you’ve ever known or read about pregnancy and babies onto your friend. Instead, lead with: “I have a few things that I found really helpful where that is concerned, would you like me to share them with you?”. This way, you put the control back into the hands of your pregnant, and probably mentally exhausted, mate so they can accept or decline your offer.
- Let them know you are there for them. If you’re a parent yourself you, of course, have a hundred stories about your experience and probably some very helpful tips too. Let your friend know that you are always happy to help answer any questions they may have about it all and then let them come to you if they want to.
- Don’t take it personally if they do things differently. I cannot stress this enough, everyone is different! There are a zillion different parenting styles, birthing options and pregnancy preferences out there so what was great for you could be your pregnant friend’s idea of hell. It doesn’t matter if they do things differently from how you did or if they do things you’d never do, it is their choice and it is not your place to judge or try to steer them in another direction. The only exception to this rule is if the safety or wellbeing of the parent or child is in jeopardy.
- Remember how you felt. If you are a parent yourself, then I am willing to bet my life that you also received unsolicited advice and I am also willing to bet you, too, hated it. Please remember this before dishing out the tips without permission from someone who is expecting.
If you’re pregnant and experiencing the bugbear that is everyone wanting to relay their own opinions on the subject then there are some things I have found helpful – if you would like to read them (wink.)
Have a “Go-To” Person
For me, I have found that designating a “go-to” resource has been super helpful. This person for me is someone I have been friends with since I was 12, who is exactly like me and who has two children.
I’ve already hit her up for recommendations for everything from parenting books (she jokingly suggested Flowers in the Attic which is why she is my best mate and go-to person) to maternity jeans and beyond.
This not only means that I have a reliable resource when I have a burning question or need a sense check, but I can let other people know that while I appreciate their help, I have a specific person I am asking for advice but would love to hit them up in the future if needed.
Be Firm But Respectful
I have also found that simply saying, “thank you so much for trying to help, but my partner and I are really enjoying researching all of this for ourselves together so we’ll let you know if we need anything” is also polite but effective.
See the Good Intentions
Above all, remember that everyone is just trying to help (something I need to get better at doing, admittedly). After all, there is nothing like the promise of new life to get people reminiscing about their own journey — and perhaps wistfully looking to relive it through yours.