Why You Shouldn't Always Say Congrats When Someone is Pregnant and What to Say Instead
Congratulations may be a standard response when finding out someone is pregnant. But pregnancy isn't always a joyous situation for a person. Even when it's coming from a good place, offering congratulatory remarks can make them feel worse. Here are other ways to offer support.
Pregnancy comes with many varying emotions, and they're not always pleasant feelings. Just like you shouldn't comment on someone's pregnancy or body unless invited to, you also shouldn't congratulate unless you know the person is happy.
"For many, parenthood is not a linear journey or fairy tale, in which an effortless conception, pregnancy, and delivery produces a healthy, thriving baby. This path is often arduous with complex and mixed emotions of hope, fear, grief, anger, shame, and excitement," says Keisha Wells, LPC, a perinatal mental health specialist based in Columbus, Georgia, and author of From Three Heartbeats to One: A Gentle Companion Offering Hope in Grieving Pregnancy and Infant Loss. "These vast emotions may stem from complications in creating or expanding a family such as infertility, pregnancy and infant loss, birth trauma, or perinatal mood and anxiety disorders."
Unless you are absolutely sure someone is excited about pregnancy based on their social media announcement, obvious body language, or clear excitement when discussing the pregnancy, offering a congratulatory comment may do more harm than good to that person mentally. That assumption of happiness can make the recipient feel isolated, guilt, and shame for feeling anything other than pure joy over the pregnancy.
"The belief that every pregnancy manifests with ease and presents a joyful experience is not realistic. With this level of consciousness, it's vital to consider and respect a person's pregnancy and birth history," says Wells.
However, saying congratulations doesn't make you a bad person, especially when it's coming from a good place. It's natural to want to offer positivity and be kind by showing excitement. Some people truly don't know what's going through the other person's head. But if the person clearly seems unhappy about it, don't try to inject positivity into their experience by saying, "every baby is a blessing." Doing so can be insensitive and invalidates the person's feelings about the huge life change.
It may be best to stay on the side of caution and avoid any congratulatory comments until the green light is given, says Wells. And because saying the right thing is often so hard, here are a few suggestions.
Acknowledge the Change
Whether the pregnancy is welcomed or not, it's safe to assume nothing will ever be the same. For many people, pregnancy can mean financial, housing, family dynamic, and other changes. Rather than assuming these upcoming changes are exciting for the person, simply acknowledge them. How they respond might give some honest insight into how they feel making it easier for you to assess where to take the conversation.
What you can say: Wow! What a huge life change.
Lend a Listening Ear
Even the happiest of pregnant people have their not-so-good moments when a human is growing inside of them. And when you're having a bad day, being reminded of "their little blessing" or how much you personally loved being pregnant can be off-putting. Instead, let them know you are always available for a one-on-one vent session.
What you can say: I know pregnancy can be unpredictable and a lot to handle. I'm here to listen.
There's so much to know about pregnancy and parenting and it can get overwhelming deciding who and what to trust when taking it all in. Even if you've been pregnant five times and consider yourself a pro, offering unsolicited advice is probably not the wisest thing to do. No one likes a know-it-all even when they are right! However, you can let them know what you're good at and leave it up to them to ask for more information when needed.
What you can say: Wow! Let me know if you want some guidance or resources. I know a ton of great pregnancy-related books, websites, and support groups.
Send Well Wishes
Staying away from "congratulations" and "every baby is a blessing" doesn't mean you can't offer good vibes. It's good for the recipient to know regardless of how the person is feeling about pregnancy that you are on their side and only want them to be happy. And you can say that!
What you can say: "Good luck. I'm here for whatever support you need. Hope all goes well."
Ask How They Feel
Considering context clues when learning of a pregnancy can offer a lot of insight on how to respond. Still, no one is a mind reader and it shouldn't be expected of you. Genuinely asking how the person feels might be the safest thing to say. Hopefully, the person feels comfortable enough in sharing how they truly feel whether good or not. At the very least, they'll probably give details about how their body is feeling physically.
What you can say: That's really big news! How are you feeling?
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The Bottom Line
Pregnancy, whether planned or unplanned, is a lot for any person to unpack. Don't make the situation even more complicated by projecting your feelings onto them. Instead, offer support every new parent needs.