- Pregnancy can be a stressful time for expectant mothers – and sometimes nosy coworkers can add to the misery.
- Career experts advised employees never to ask a woman the baby’s gender or other invasive questions. Instead, just say “congratulations” and treat them like you usually would.
- Here are seven things you should never say if you think a coworker might be pregnant.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Pregnancy, while exciting, can be a stressful time for many women.
Aside from the physical changes, expectant mothers have a host of hurdles to overcome at work, like figuring out a plan for parental leave and keeping the news under wraps.
The US outlaws pregnancy discrimination at work outright, but many pregnant women say there are subtle ways even the most well-intentioned coworkers can make them feel ostracised.
Career experts who work with pregnant women told Business Insider the comments that frustrate expectant mothers the most.
Some comments, like asking the baby’s gender, might seem well intentioned but come across as invasive. Other questions can make pregnant women feel alienated and might even discourage them from returning to the same job.
Here are seven things you should never say to a pregnant coworker – plus tips on what you should say.
“Wow, you’re getting big!”
Comments regarding a woman – or anyone’s – body are never allowed in the workplace, said Alison Green, the creator of the popular work advice site Ask a Manager.
“No one wants to feel her colleagues are scrutinizing her body,” Green told Business Insider.
Additionally, pregnant women may already be anxious about their baby’s growth, as well as getting used to normal bodily changes that happen, said Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant.” Taylor helps companies specifically design adjustable pants that help pregnant women feel more comfortable during these physical changes.
“Being pregnant in the office is a sensitive time in terms of what you hear from your coworkers,” Taylor told Business Insider. “I think most people in this nine-month period just want to be treated like your average employee, so try not to treat them very differently.”
“Are you ready for your vacation?” (In reference to maternity leave)
Caring for a newborn is not a vacation, said Liz Gulliver, the CEO of working parent advocacy company Kunik. Newborns sleep irregularly and require constant attention. On top of the physical stress parents encounter dealing with a newborn, 17.7% of new mothers worldwide experience postpartum depression.
Plus, the US is the only developed country that does not guarantee new parents get paid parental leave – meaning some workers might not get paid to care for a newborn.
For parents fortunate enough to get paid leave, they may draw envy from coworkers who never cared for children. These colleagues might think of parental leave as a “vacation,” Gulliver said, where parents get paid not to work.
“I think that most people who haven’t had kids don’t understand [parental leave] and view it as kind of a paid vacation that they’re not getting access to,” Gulliver told Business Insider.
Insinuating parental leave is a vacation can make pregnant mothers feel unsupported by their colleagues, Gulliver added. Plus, many expectant mothers are already worried about falling behind during their time away from work – minimising the leave only adds to the stress.
“Hearing comments like that is disparaging, and it really makes them feel as though they are not a vital, contributing member that people are looking forward to return,” she said.
“I guarantee you won’t be able to leave your baby once maternity leave ends.”
Gulliver, who spoke with hundreds of working women as she started her company on their experience with pregnancy, said that their colleagues would often assume they would never return to work.
Although more women graduate from college than men, and women now make up the bulk of the college-educated workforce, 64% of women leave work after having a baby, according to a 2017 study.
Some of this has to do with the childcare and household labour that still falls on women’s’ shoulders: mothers spend 32 hours per week on non-paid work, while fathers spend just 18 hours, according to Pew.
Assuming a woman won’t come back to work further makes her feel alienated, Gulliver said.
“When you have in the back of your head those comments that people made you before you leave, it does not fill you with confidence,” Gulliver said. “I’m sure some of those comments impacts people’s decisions about whether to return or not.”
Furthermore, assuming a mum will be so closely bonded to her baby she can’t come back to work is sexist, Green said, as many women look forward to coming back.
“Almost no one tells expectant fathers they will change their plans and end up becoming stay-at-home-dads,” she said.
“Is it a boy or girl?”
While asking the sex or name of the baby seems benign, these are private topics between the pregnant woman and her partner, Taylor said.
The pregnant woman might be waiting until the baby is born to decide the name or find out the sex. Some research also links certain medical problems with a foetus’ sex.
No matter the reason, this private information is none of your business, and should only be discussed if the woman brings it up herself.
“Can I touch your bump?”
Pregnant women can sometimes feel like their colleagues assume they can touch their baby, but this is another move that violates a woman’s personal space, said Michelle Kennedy, the CEO of Peanut, an app that connects expectant mothers to each other.
“It is one of the worst offenders,” Kennedy told Business Insider. “I didn’t want to be petted.”
Kennedy adds colleagues should only touch a baby bump unless explicitly invited to do so, though she cautions that probably won’t happen often.
“You really shouldn’t be drinking coffee.”
“Everybody’s an expert when you’re pregnant,” Taylor said. She said pregnant women often hear unsolicited advice on their eating and drinking habits at work, including:
- “Just say no to caffeine.”
- “Good thing you’re not drinking.”
- “Drink more water.”
- “Watch the sugar.”
What’s worse, the advice comes from people who themselves don’t know much about how pregnant women should eat or drink, Kennedy said. No one is more aware of how they should eat than the pregnant woman, the CEO added, and they don’t need any more advice.
“If she weren’t pregnant and you were commenting on what someone was doing, that it wouldn’t be tolerated,” Kennedy said. “And yet pregnancy becomes open seasons for these things.”
“Was the baby planned?”
Never ask if the baby “was planned,” Taylor said. That’s way more information than you are entitled to.
Furthermore, the question is a somewhat roundabout way to inquire about your colleague’s sex life – a topic that has no place at work.
While this question might not come up a lot at work, Green advised one woman whose intern had asked whether she planned the baby. The woman did not think the intern intended to be invasive; instead, she figured the younger employee came from a sheltered background and hadn’t been exposed to many pregnant women.
“Since she’s an intern and part of the reason she’s there is to learn professional norms, I’m coming down on the side of saying something,” Green said in her advice column. “If she seems mortified, you could add, ‘Please don’t be mortified. I realise you probably don’t have a lot of peers getting pregnant and so may not have much experience with pregnancy announcements.'”
Instead of being invasive, just offer a helping hand and leave the conversation at “Congratulations.”
While there are many questions that can irk expectant mothers, some comments are welcome – like a simple “congratulations.”
“People would say to me, ‘Gosh, you are tiny’ or ‘you look huge’ or any of those pejorative, horrible comments, and all I really wanted someone to say is, ‘Congratulations,'” Kennedy said.
Pregnant coworkers would also appreciate if you offered to pick up the slack on assignments if they have an appointment, or any help with other work-related things, Taylor added.
“Anything work related that you can do is great,” she said. “Business as usual is always appreciated.”
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