My husband and I would love to grow our family and give our son a sibling to explore life with. During our parenting talks, thoughts of possible pregnancy side effects, including nausea, morning sickness, exhaustion, joint pains and the dreaded belly rub from strangers fill my mind. I was over the moon excited when my bump finally popped out during the 6th month of my first pregnancy. However, I quickly learned that my rounded belly would lead to unsolicited advice, unwanted attention, and the occasional belly rub from strangers without my permission. My pregnant belly felt like an open invitation for people to invade my personal space and break down boundaries.
Why Do We Touch?
Pregnant women seem to have a magnetic effect on people. Everyone is drawn to her growing belly (I don’t blame them – growing a human is a miracle)! However, with this magnetic pull comes the wish to touch.
Nonverbal communication — emotions, postures, motions, and touch are our first language. We use touch consciously and subconsciously to express how we feel. A 2006 study by psychologist Matthew Hertenstein found that we can name emotions by touch alone. He asked blindfolded participants to communicate the emotions associated with each touch. Although blindfolded, they accurately identified anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness and sadness.
So… What does this mean?
We express emotions through touch; our family, friends or strangers might touch a pregnant woman’s belly to communicate happiness or love. Most belly touches happen with the best intentions, however, this should not devalue the feelings of the person on the receiving end or make the unsolicited touch okay.
A Bonding Moment
Women have varying thoughts on belly rubs during pregnancy. Some love it and gladly accept all the touches from family and strangers, while others reserve this bonding moment for family and friends. Wherever you are on this spectrum, it is totally okay! I just happen to be the latter of the two groups. Am I the only woman who feels repugnance at the thought of strangers caressing their growing belly — especially without permission?
This might come as a surprise to some because I’m the extrovert who loves to give and receive affection. I’m a hugger if you haven’t guessed it! However, I still love my personal space and believe we should have boundaries.
How to prevent touches – if it makes you uncomfortable
During this journey, I learned to speak up — even if someone would feel offended by my response to their actions.
- Before I gained the confidence to speak up: I subtly protected myself by stepping back and holding my belly when I sensed someone was aiming to touch.
- Eventually, I realized that being direct was more empowering. When strangers leaned in to touch I’d calmly say: “I don’t want my belly to be touched. I don’t like it.” Surprisingly, they were more understanding than I expected.
Here’s something to consider before you touch a pregnant woman’s belly – without asking.
An unwanted touch can evoke past traumas. We don’t know what someone is going through or has experienced in her past. Touching without permission can be insensitive and an invasion of one’s physical, emotional and mental space. Let us ask before we touch a pregnant woman’s belly.