How to Handle Unsolicited Post-Pregnancy Advice

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If you’ve ever taken a new baby to the grocery store before, you’ve learned a strange truth: people think babies are public property. Total strangers will walk right up to you in the bread aisle and talk to or touch your baby, interrogate you with all kinds of awkward questions, and even assume you want to receive their unsolicited advice about how to raise a child.

Most of these people have good intentions, but that doesn’t change the fact that these kinds of encounters can feel invasive. You and your baby have a right to personal space and privacy when in public—especially in the first few months after birth, when you’re understandably anxious about taking your baby along on errands and appointments, exposing them to the world at large.

You want to enforce some simple boundaries with the people you meet, but you also don’t want to be rude. And that dilemma gets even more complicated when the people invading your space aren’t strangers (i.e. they’re your own family and friends). The last thing you want to do is offend your Great-Aunt Sally but you also don’t want to describe your episiotomy in elaborate detail to her either. 

How can you politely establish your personal limits without alienating yourself from everyone you come into contact with? It might not be as hard as you think. Here’s a conflict-free guide to navigating all those sticky, tricky, social interactions involving your new baby.

Awkward Personal Questions

Did You Poop During Delivery?

Scenario: Your younger cousin comes over to visit your baby and says, “I’ve heard some women poop on the delivery table ... did you?”

  • Strategy: Deflect and redirect. You want to get nosy people to focus on a less personal topic ASAP.
  • Your response: Laugh and say, “Well, that’s personal!” or “I have no idea!” This will help change the subject.

Can I Hold Your Baby?

Scenario: An older woman at the bank admires your little one and then asks if she can hold her. She seems nice, but ... she’s a total stranger.

  • Strategy: Blame the baby—sorry baby! It's best to try to let the person know that your baby isn't comfortable (even though you're the one who isn't comfortable with it) being held by anyone else by you right now.
  • Your response: You can politely say that your baby "isn't really too comfortable and gets fussy being held my anyone but me."

Are You Feeding Your Baby Enough?

Scenario: Another mom at the pediatrician’s office sees your baby, asks how old she is, and then looks concerned. “She’s so small! Are you sure you’re feeding her enough?”

  • Strategy: Try to be charitable, since people’s awkward questions can be reflections of their own insecurities or past experiences. But you also do not have to entertain thinly-veiled criticisms of your parenting and can feel free to politely—but firmly—shut down the line of questioning. 
  • Your response: “The doctor is happy with her growth, but thanks for your concern.”

Unsolicited Advice

It's Cold, Your Baby Should Be Wearing More Clothes

Scenario: A woman at the coffee shop pauses to coo over your baby. “Oh, but it’s chilly in here,” she says. “You should have a hat/pair of socks/jacket on him!”

  • Strategy: You could argue with Ms. What To Wear all day about how it’s 70 degrees outside and your baby is just fine, thanksverymuch, but what’s the point? Reassure her that you have the situation covered (even if you don’t actually have anything extra in your diaper bag, because she’ll never know the difference).
  • Your response: “He’s fine right now, but I do have an extra hat/pair of socks/jacket in my diaper bag just in case.”

You Should Be Breastfeeding

Scenario: As you’re preparing your baby’s bottle for an impromptu feeding at the park, a stranger makes small talk with you before informing you that “breast is best” and formula is bad for babies.

  • Strategy: It’s easy to fall into a debate with someone over the breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding issue even though it’s not anyone’s business but your own. Don’t engage the “breast is best” crowd; you don’t owe them an explanation.
  • Your response: Stay calm (even if you’re fuming) and respond with a confident assertion like “We’ve chosen to formula feed and her doctor says she’s perfectly healthy,” or a simple “We’re doing what’s best for our family.”

You Should Be Bottle-Feeding

Scenario: Your baby is fussing while you try to breastfeed her (again). Your mom says, “You should just give her a bottle! That’s what I did with you.”

  • Strategy: No one likes to see a new mom struggling. Assume your mom (or anyone telling you to “just” give your baby a bottle) is giving you permission to make your life a little easier. You don’t need their permission and you don’t have to take their advice, but tell them you’ll consider it and they’ll probably let it go.
  • Your response: “I’m sticking with breastfeeding for now, but I’ll keep it in mind, Mom.”

Rude and Inappropriate Comments

Your Baby Is Such a Flirt

Scenario: The woman in line behind you peers over your shoulder, making silly faces at your baby. When he smiles back, the woman remarks that he’s “such a flirt!” and you feel kind of icky about it.

  • Strategy: If you're put off by the insinuation that babies have sexual preferences involving flirting or attraction, that's understandable. But unless you’re super comfortable engaging in a conversation about why that language is problematic in the middle of the grocery store, acknowledge the compliment hidden within without endorsing the talk of flirtation.
  • Your response: “He does have a great smile!”

Your Baby Is Chubby

Scenario: The mechanic at the auto body shop jokingly calls your baby “fat” or “chubby.”

  • Strategy: Your baby doesn’t understand criticism yet, but this one could still sting ... for you. A polite dismissal is fine the first time this type of comment is made, especially if the offender is a stranger; but if the hits keep on coming or the person making them is a family member, you may need to lay down a firmer boundary by asking that weight-related talk be off the table.
  • Your response: “I think he’s perfect just the way he is.”

You Still Look Pregnant

Scenario: Your brother-in-law arrives to visit your new baby and makes a not-so-funny crack about how you still “look pregnant” or “kept all your baby weight.”

  • Strategy: Never underestimate the power of humor, so if your relative can dish it out and take it in return, alleviate the tension with a joke or two. If not, you can still educate him on the very real toll that carrying and delivering a baby takes on a woman’s body. Maybe he doesn’t know that yet, and he’ll treat the next postpartum woman he meets with a little more respect.
  • Your response: You’ll want to throw a board book at him, but resist the temptation. Instead, remind him what you were doing for nine months, i.e. growing and nourishing a living human. What has he done lately? (Okay, including that last part is up to you!)

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes an awkward question or inappropriate comment is an innocent mistake, an oversight in the part of our brains that tells us what’s socially acceptable. In those cases, having a sense of humor, some extra patience, or the ability to swiftly change the subject is all you need. 

On the other hand, some people know where the social limits are and choose to push them anyway. It’s best to handle those people as respectfully but confidently as possible: state your position, thank them for their input, but close the conversation to debate. Rinse and repeat. If bad behavior continues, you may need to have an honest chat about boundaries. 

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