The Etiquette of Bump Touching

Etiquette Bump Touching

For some eager beavers, there’s nothing more enticing than the opportunity to touch a pregnant woman’s bump. Like moths to a flame – one can see their eyes light up and arms reach out in slow motion before the mother even has the chance to realise what’s happening.

When you mention unauthorised bump rubbing to mothers or moms-to-be, most will have a story to tell, if not theirs, then someone else’s. To be absolutely fair, it’s hard for pregnant women to keep their own hands off their smooth blossoming bellies, so you’d be forgiven for being drawn to the magnetic appeal of a hidden baby waiting to enter the world.

But wherever you are on the tactility spectrum, every pregnant woman’s feelings and attitude to touching by random people are valid – especially as emotions are heighted at this period of her life. Some moms are rubbed by well-meaning friends and relatives, elated at the thought of a brand-new shiny baby entering their circle, whilst others are ambushed by complete strangers who feel like pregnant women, like public property, are fair game.

In today’s day and age, pregnant women are unapologetic about playing a full and active role in society. They are able to decide by themselves when it’s time to retreat and take it easy, normally in the final few weeks before delivery. Yet despite their frequent visibility, pregnant women are still viewed by some with extreme curiosity, with statements like, ‘You don’t look very big’, ‘you’re all bump – so lucky’ or ‘very yummy mummy’.

“I was about to give a presentation at work, when a female colleague I don’t know very well got up and touched my stomach saying that she had been dying to do it for a while. She complimented me on how well I looked and I know she was just being nice, but it really made me feel uncomfortable in front of my boss. It was unprofessional,” said mother-of-two, Lucy from London.

Attitudes to the literal hands on approaches to expectant mothers vary from culture to culture. Did you know that in Chinese culture, it’s frowned upon to put your hand on a pregnant woman’s shoulder and in Liberia, many people believe in the presence of evil spirits who may wish to steal the baby from the womb and therefore prefer only close friends and family touch their stomachs? Rather than causing offence first and apologising later, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and make a few enquiries before committing a massive faux pas.

“I don’t mind people touching my stomach if I know them and they ask first, but I’ve had experiences where I’ve had a few well meaning, but painful prods while out and about by female strangers who seemed a bit too excited at the sight of a pregnant woman,” said Farah, another mother-of-one from London. Every human, male or female is entitled to personal space, the need for privacy and respect when going about their daily business. Being pregnant does not mean you have forgone these rights in the name of sisterhood or plain curiosity.

On the subject of poking abdomens without permission, how can a person approaching a pregnant mother be sure of her mental state at this challenging time of her life? It is believed that between 14% and 23% of pregnant women in the US suffer from depression during pregnancy. With experts continually finding that women today are under more stress than ever before, it’s not as easy to assume that a well-meaning stroke won’t be misinterpreted or readily accepted without some form of a quick assessments of how your physical gesture will be interpreted. Although rare, you may even stumble across someone suffering from invisible conditions such as haphephobia for example, where sufferers find even the lightest touch overwhelming and painful. It’s important to bear in mind that millions of people are living with hidden mental disabilities, so we must be astute to the possibilities of other people’s struggles when reaching for any form of physical touch.

In a post-#MeToo era, the reality is that both men and women need to be cautious about unwarranted attempts at touching without permission. Although it is a time that the majority of people only harbour good intentions when they see a pregnant woman, just because the mother has the visible bump and the father shows no symptoms on imminent parenthood doesn’t mean she’s open to be more poking and prodding. She really doesn’t need more physical invasions to add to her list over the nine-month period…and beyond if she breastfeeds!

One can’t mention the bump touching brigade without mentioning the fortune tellers who feel that by touching or simply eyeing up your bulge they have insider knowledge about the gender of your child. The certainty with which some people state their non-scientific findings is astounding…as well as funny at times. Whilst the prediction game can be seen as a bit of light-hearted banter, any fondling or closer examinations needed can be awkward and embarrassing for would-be moms.

Through my experiences as a mother and my general observations over the years, I’ve noticed that unwarranted advances and unsolicited comments that bother you in your first pregnancy, are far less irritating in any others that may follow. Not because your opinions or the grievances have changes, but because the sleepless nights, exhaustion and general change in lifestyle means that issues played havoc with your mind previously have been relegated to the trash can, with more pressing issues to worry about (like diapers that need changing imminently.) Generally speaking, regardless of the circumstance, most people wish you and your bump well and where you draw the line is your decision and is valid regardless of the opinion of others. Now that you’ve read through some of the arguments and scenarios, they’ll be no excuse for not having a plan when you see those hands making a determined beeline for your bump.

Sarah Mehrali
Sarah Mehrali is a news journalist and communications consultant based in London. She has worked across multiple TV and digital platforms for Thomson Reuters, BBC News and ITN. Sarah also works as a content editor for TEDxLondon. In her spare time, she likes to hit the exhibition circuit with her two boys or discover the latest culinary delights in the capital. She is passionate about the power of diversity and works on various social projects to promote inclusivity.

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