This month marks my 14th year of being deeply involved in the health and fitness industry. From the very beginning,…
As a fitness professional, it is likely that women represent a considerable percentage of your training population. And, chances are, at least some of these women will at some point go through pregnancy and childbirth. Exciting!
There are many ways in which you as a coach, can help your pregnant clients.
One simple way to help your expectant clients always feel comfortable and respected by you is by understanding and avoiding phrases that, though very common, are also bothersome, hurtful or annoying to pregnant women.
If you have experienced pregnancy firsthand, you may find yourself nodding along while reading some of the statements below — or not! It is important to remember that all women are individuals, and what is irritating to one may be perfectly acceptable to another.
Many factors come into play when defining which comments one pregnant woman will find intrusive or disrespectful, including her relationship with the commenter, her belief systems, her current state of self-perception and sense of self, the mood she is in, the tone and delivery used by the commenter, etc.
Pregnant women are not one generic population for whom all the same rules apply — use your discretion and intuition for communicating effectively.
The guidelines presented here stem from common experiences shared by many pregnant women, and they offer a general template on which you can base your interactions with expectant clients — or any other pregnant woman in your life!
Here are three types of comments you should avoid:
“You’re getting so big”
“You look so small”
“You’re ready to pop!”
“You don’t even look pregnant”
Anything having to do with a pregnant woman’s size is generally off-limits: we don’t know how she feels about the changes occurring within her body, and how she internalizes them.
Furthermore, placing emphasis and focus on what she looks like during this time of her life is one more way of re-affirming the message that a woman’s looks, even in pregnancy, are the most important or interesting part about her. And we know this is far from the truth!
It is time we change the conversation.
Many people will argue that telling a pregnant woman she looks “small” or “doesn’t even look pregnant” is a compliment. However, take a moment to consider why.
Is it because they’re speaking from the societal norm that dictates that when it comes to women, smaller is always better? Is it because being big is seen as bad, unhealthy, unattractive, or undesirable? There are many layers to untangle here and, if you happen to share this belief, we encourage you to do some self-reflecting and discover why you consider smallness to be deserving of praise.
An added layer of complexity in this matter is that, since we are unfamiliar with the pregnant woman’s story, comments on her appearance may be tapping into a legitimate fear for her or her baby’s safety.
If this mother is struggling to put on weight or measuring too small, she could be deeply worried due to her doctor’s concern. Our seemingly innocuous comment only serves to remind her of potential danger, stressing her even more. Even if everything is safe and healthy, if this mother is deeply proud of her pregnancy and eager to show it off, hearing that she doesn’t even look pregnant may be terribly crushing.
As for “You’re getting so big!” and “You’re ready to pop!” the implication is that her size is exceeding what is viewed as “normal” (what is normal, anyway?) You can see how this would be worrisome or unnerving to a pregnant woman.
This is why, as a general rule, comments regarding her shape and size are best avoided.
“I was ripped from side to side”
“My epidural didn’t work”
“She ended up in an emergency c-section”
“My cousin almost died”
Let’s stop it with the birth horror stories, please. They do not serve the expectant mother at all.
Describing with detail the severity of injuries and lesions, the amount of stitches or hemorrhage, the urgency of interventions, or anything else that comes with a difficult or traumatic birth is not helpful to her in any way.
Some women have gone through physically, mentally and emotionally scarring pregnancies and births, and they may feel the need to share their story in order to heal; this is understandable, of course, and such efforts should be honored. However, these stories ideally require an appropriate space and audience. Pregnant women are not a part of this ideal audience.
“You shouldn’t be eating that”
“You ought to be doing yoga”
“You shouldn’t exercise”
A woman’s pregnant body is still only the woman’s — we don’t get to dictate what she should be doing or what she ought to be choosing.
Yes, that body is carrying a baby. No, this does not mean that other people’s input on her everyday life decisions is suddenly valuable or welcome.
This is probably the trickiest of all, because most people feel a sense of duty for the wellbeing of the baby. They feel justified in questioning the expectant mother’s choices, from exercising to adding sugar to her coffee, because What about the baby?
Before speaking, it may be helpful to think: Is this something I would say to her if she wasn’t pregnant? If the answer is no — and it usually is — silence is your best course of action.
Pregnant women are still autonomous, intelligent women who can decide and choose for themselves.
Your client has a myriad of talents and wonderful character traits you could comment on; it shouldn’t be difficult to come up with a list!
You can compliment her determination, her hard work, her ability to listen to her body, her focus, her willingness to scale back as recommended, her openness in seeking professional help, the fact that she’s showing up each day, and so much more.
“I’m so happy you’re here even though exhaustion can make it hard.”
“I’m proud of you scaling as needed.”
“You’re doing amazing!”
“You’re glowing/vibrant/full of life.”
Most of all, be there for your pregnant client to the best of your ability; be encouraging and compassionate. Some times will be high with successes and excitement, others may be low with physical symptoms and difficult emotions.
Being pregnant can feel like a very vulnerable time for some women, and this is why it can serve as a wonderful moment for connection if we learn to listen and be there.
Working with pre- and postnatal clients can be one of the most rewarding aspects of our professional lives!