When someone tells me that they or their partner are pregnant, my typical response is "Congratulations!"

But I have found out that this remark is not always appropriate- notably when the pregnancy is unplanned. Sometimes I am informed about the pregnancy via text or online chat so it is harder to get a read on their feeling towards it. In some cases I do not know the person very well either so I do not know if I would expect them to be excited or distressed about the news.
I feel awkward thinking about asking "Was the pregnancy planned?" or "How are you feeling about it?"

Specific examples:

"So I'm pregnant." / "Oh, congrats!" / "No, not good..." / "Oh..."
"Just found out that I'm pregnant." / "Oh, congrats!" / "I... I'm not sure what to do."
"Oh yeah- (partner's name) is pregnant." / "Really? Congratulations!" / "..." / "..."
"omg guys im pregnant" / "congrats!!" / "no im SO F***ED"

In all my personal cases I was not informed prior that the person/couple were "trying for a baby".

What is generally a polite or appropriate response when someone informs me of their or their partner's pregnancy if I can't get a read on their emotions?

Not sure if it is relevant for context but I am a 24 year old living in America.

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    Have you actually gotten a bad response to "how are you feeling?" It seems like a fairly reasonable question to ask (considering it's usually a big deal both emotionally and physically) but, I don't have a lot of experience talking with pregnant people.. – Em C May 15 at 15:33
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    @EmC I've never actually tried it so I'm not sure what kind of response it would get – aaa May 15 at 21:44

12 Answers 12

When confronted with news that could either be good or bad, pick the response that is most common.

Pregnancies, even unplanned, are normally met with cheer in the US.

Congratulate them. That's just expected behavior. If you're wrong, they will simply tell you how they really feel.

If you ask if it was planned, it could make them feel judged or get demoralized. If it actually was an accident, your congratulations really isn't going to do them harm, as they are probably already stressed enough.

Note: This works with all news.

For example, if someone informs you that their grandparent died, you respond with comfort for their sadness instead of asking "Oh, did you and your grandparent get along?".

When in doubt, go with what's expected in your culture.

  • I would add that even planned pregnancies are stressful. It's ALWAYS stressful. – user1261710 May 29 at 13:54
  • How do you then backtrack if the congratulations were misplaced? – marcellothearcane Aug 16 at 5:10

But I have found out that this remark is not always appropriate- notably when the pregnancy is unplanned.

In general, if a person is publicly announcing her pregnancy, she has decided to keep the pregnancy, and almost certainly the baby. So congratulations are called for.

Never ask if a pregnancy was planned. Just don't do it. If a person is a close enough friend to you, they might volunteer that information, but you do not ask. You publicly presume that the pregnancy was wanted.

The major exception to this would be if a minor announced her pregnancy. There, one has to take into account the likelihood that the baby will be put up for adoption, so you use your judgement if that person really wants congratulations.

Do you really have that many friends who are so close with you, they would disclose an unwanted pregnancy to you, and they would choose to do so over text? Most people with an unwanted pregnancy would get an abortion, and most would keep it private. I would think that most people wanting support would seek it face to face, not over text.

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    You're mixing "unwanted" and "unplanned". Those are totally different concepts. – Eric Duminil May 16 at 5:54
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    Some people if faced with problematic choices in there life get quiet about it. Others, when overwhelmed with a situation, cry out in unspecific "cries for help" to anybody they can get a hold of. Just because someone announced an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy to you in their first state of shock it does not mean they will not regret doing so a day later. Or that the status goes from "unwanted" to "Yay!" a week later. They are hoping for consolation. Or help. Or something, just anything to help them go along. – skymningen May 16 at 7:18
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    A pregnancy is a BIG DEAL. If it's unwanted, it's a BIG PROBLEM. If someone was going to text someone about a BIG PROBLEM, instead of meeting face to face, they would at least text someone who could be counted onto know their situation well enough to know its a BIG PROBLEM. – swbarnes2 May 16 at 16:28
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    I know a couple who tried to have a baby, had an adoption, then got pregnant. Their pregnancy was unplanned, but it was not bad news at all. Planned versus unplanned is not the issue at all its whether or not the pregnancy is wanted or not. – swbarnes2 May 16 at 16:30

I remembered something a friend said when another friend was announcing their partner's pregnancy and I think it is an alternative to "Congratulations!"

This is big news

This can be said in a tone to match the other person- with excitement or with concern. If it is unclear, it can be said as a neutral statement.

However I agree that in most cases it is still appropriate to congratulate them.

Sounds like you're wanting an easy out. Instead of allowing the focus of the conversation to be on your emotions/response, redirect it to the person or couple who is pregnant. Simply ask:

"Are you excited?" (if you think they'll be happy).

"Is this recent news?" (not going to get anywhere, but stalling questions will give more time and content to read their emotions).

"Are you okay? Tired? Hungry? Sick?" (More so focuses on things that occur during pregnancy, this is about as neutral as it gets).

"How are you feeling/How does it feel?" (if you think they'll be unhappy).

By doing this you don't have to give a response until they answer, because the conversational focus is now directed on what the pregnant person feels towards the pregnancy. This is an easy out and will mean you can sympathise with whatever their response will be (negative or positive).

Note: Generally if someone not that close is telling you that their pregnant, it's safe to assume that they're happy about their pregnancy.

If it's someone that you're fairly close with, and especially if you have an inkling that they may not have wanted a baby (e.g. they have expressed distaste for children in the past), you could punctuate with a question mark: Congratulations? or Congratulations?!

This allows them to segue into how they feel about it, so you can find out and they won't feel judged by a cheery response when in fact they meant to tell you that they don't want to keep the baby.

** Disclaimer: I am a female in my early 20's in the United States and I believe this response wouldn't offend any of my friends who are my age. It may not be appropriate for people who are more mature or formal in the way they act.

I would first underline the importance of the news with "that is big news!" which is a neutral affirmation followed by focusing on the persons feeling "How do you feel about it?" So with this, you take notice of the importance and also you are being emphatic without being inappropriate.

I’d suggest the reply “Can I congratulate?”

It’s a question, but it is often used as a statement ( a rhetoric question). It gives the other person the chance to say “no” without being awkward. It’s better than asking “is that good news” because it doesn’t state an expectation that it might be bad news.

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    Great suggestion. But it might be best to ask "can I congratulate" only if others can't overhear her answer. Otherwise you may put her under social pressure to talk about something very personal in front of an audience. – O. Jones May 20 at 16:59

One possible option, if you are only talking to one of the responsible parties, is to ask how their SO reacted. This can give you a good idea if it's desired/planned and whether to follow up with congratulations or commiseration.

Rather than ask if the pregnancy was planned, perhaps explicitly ask, "Is this good news?"

My wife and I are happily married, and had one child. One evening when this child was about 13 months old, my wife comes out of the bathroom sobbing hysterically. When she's finally capable of speech, she announces that she's pregnant.

We were planning on waiting two years or so before even trying for a second one (by the way, she was on birth control and hadn't missed a day, so if you ever find yourself asking, "How does that happen to people?", just know that it does). Now that the second baby is almost a year old he's the happiest, most wonderful, most chill baby ever and we can't imagine life without him. But the initial shock that we were going to have children less than two years apart (two children in diapers...yikes) was a little overwhelming, so the news was not, strictly speaking, "good", and if anyone asked something akin to that question, our answers varied depending on the day.

I feel there's no implicit judgment in the question, and it lets them set the tone for how the news should be received if they have not done so already.

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    It's good you included your story and background, but I think that is an exceptionally rare circumstance, and in most cases the answer "Is this good news?" would seem weirdly over-cautious. – Wildcard May 16 at 0:30
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    From the OP's point of view, I think that, while my specific instance might be exceptionally rare, the fact that the theoretical pregnancy is not a cause for celebration is not exceptionally rare. As such, weirdly over-cautious is better than mildly offensive. I think asking "Is this good news?", at worst, is going to prompt the original person to ask questions, at which point the OP can explain why they asked the question. – John Doe May 16 at 16:49

In most cases, if they've said something short and low on qualification like "I'm pregnant" they intend to tell you more and you don't even need to ask.

The pause exists to break up the impact of the news, get your attention and provide you an early-out if you don't have time to talk.

The average person isn't going to blanket-spam every one of their friends on facebook individually saying "I'm pregnant" and just leave it at that, they sought you out to tell you about it and/or get your opinion.

All you need to do is acknowledge and react at all and they'll be ecstatic or grousing/crying in their next sentence depending on their mood, they likely aren't even looking for your opinion per-say, more sharing the news.

So a good instant-messaging response might be to say "Oh wow!" and then wait for them to continue.

Consider "Congratulations", but with a very slight up-tick in pitch at the end, so it's ambiguously a statement or a question, depending on how they wish to interpret it. This is best combined with a slight smile, which can also be either conveying happiness or a coy in-on-the-joke vibe. This gives plenty of wiggle room for the person to respond and further acknowledges that even if it was planned, they might still have complex mixed feelings about the situation. Though, to be fair, this partly depends on your personalities and how close you are; slightly ambiguous/playful responses can work in a wide range of situations, I've found, but some folks prefer more direct language.

You can try to match your response on the way they make the announcement.

If they announce it in an upbeat manner, then they're presumably happy about the pregnancy and you should congratulate them.

If they seem dismayed about it, then you should sympathise with them.

Also, people are less likely to announce sad news to people they don't know well. So if you aren't close to them and they tell you they're pregnant, it's probably good news. An exception might be if they're using it as a reason to refuse an invitation, get out of an obligation, etc. -- they might feel the need to be truthful about the reason, regardless of your relationship to them and their feelings about it.

protected by A J May 18 at 7:11

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