As you may have heard in the media recently, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, wants to ban the word “bossy”, saying we should instead say those girls are leaders (as she specifically speaks of). Without getting into the debate on that topic specifically, I do think she has a point on a larger scale – we need to be more mindful of the words we use and their possible effect on those to whom we speak.

I believe being mindful about our speech is important in all aspects of life. When communicating, sometimes the better option is more mindful words or no words at all (remain silent).

I’ve noticed some common insensitive words or phrases that may be subtly sabotaging women at vulnerable times of their lives (pregnancy, childbirth, newborns, and babies). You probably use most of these words and don’t think twice about it. I’d love for you to read the list with an open mind.

I’ve also included a list of better, more mindful alternatives. As you read these words, try to visualize how it feels to hear each set of words.

1. Overdue vs. Post Date

During pregnancy an estimated delivery date, or “due date”, for the baby is calculated. IMG_6590_bwWhile only four percent of women will deliver on their due date, it is quite common for people to consider the due date some sort of absolute, final day. There seems to be much fear and anxiety about approaching the due date and even more so about going past it.  If a pregnant woman goes past her estimated due date many people, including health care practitioners, use the term “overdue” to refer to either the woman or the pregnancy.

The problem: When used to describe a woman’s pregnancy, “overdue” can seem judgmental and can infer that something is “wrong” or not as it should be, that “something should have happened by now” – and that some action must be taken. When used to describe a pregnant woman (i.e. she’s overdue, I’m overdue) it can cause undue stress to the mother, with her possibly thinking she is doing something wrong.

The solution: Since the normal duration of pregnancy is 37 to 42 weeks, which is referred to as “term”, it would be mindful to use descriptive (not judgmental) language when discussing the due date, as follows:

  • Post Date=After estimated due date
  • Post Term=After 42 weeks

Remember this line:

Library books and rented videos might be overdue. A woman’s pregnancy might be post date or post term.

Notice the reference to the pregnancy as post date/post term, not the woman.

2.Delivered vs. Attended/Caught

When discussing doctors or midwives among friends some people might ask, “Who delivered your baby?” or “Dr. Jones delivered my son”, just as some doctors will say, “I delivered five babies yesterday.”

I chose the care of a midwife for my pregnancies and births of my two babies. When talking to my midwife, or reading books written by midwives, I noticed they used different words when describing their role during labor and childbirth; words such as “I attended the birth” or “I caught the baby”.

There is an important distinction regarding the language midwives use;  it acknowledges that the woman does the work of birthing the baby.

The word “delivered” is so commonly used to indicate the IMG_6241caregiver’s work instead of the mother’s that it might be a hard one to consciously think about and change. Even my children’s very holistic pediatrician, whose wife had homebirths and also knew I just had a homebirth, asked me on the first visit with my newborn daughter, “Who delivered her?” Without missing a beat I simply said, “I did.” He smiled and said, “You sound just like my wife. Who helped deliver her?” “Oh that would be my midwife, Leslie.” 😉

Using terminology that reflects the woman’s important role in birthing a baby is empowering to women. Let’s not take away the birthing woman’s role or power.

The birthing mom delivers the baby. The midwife/doctor attends the birth or catches the baby.

And moms, if anyone asks you who delivered your baby just smile and say proudly, “I did.”

3. Uncircumcised vs. Intact

While circumcision is a hot-button issue itself, I am not here to discuss the procedure but rather the terms used when describing the baby boy’s foreskin. Circumcision is still very common in the United States and I think that leads to the commonly used terms of either ‘circumcised’ or ‘uncircumcised’ when discussing a baby boy’s foreskin.

The Problem: When using circumcised/uncircumcised, one word is defined in terms of the other, instead of on their own. This may lead to the thinking that being circumcised is the norm, or the ruler by which other states are measured, which can lead to negative feelings or emotions for men or the parents of baby boys with intact foreskins.

The Solution: Use a word that is defined on its own. While ‘uncircumcised’ may be technically correct, after all many words in the English language use the ‘un-‘ prefix, a more mindful term is “intact”.

4. Real Food vs. Solid Food

Many of you may have heard a friend or relative ask:

  • When are you going to give that baby real food?
  • Is she eating real food yet?

These types of questions may arise when your baby is of a generally accepted age to eat solid food, as in pureed baby food. Perhaps these people see you feeding your baby breastmilk or formula, which are liquid food. Whether you are the asker or the askee, you may not have thought much about the terms real food vs. solid food.

The problem: When you say “real food” when you mean “solid/pureed food”, it can feel judgmental and possibly indicate that you feel the current food (breastmilk or formula) is a fake food/not real or “not good enough”, which is not only inaccurate in this case but hurtful to the mom who is feeding her baby.

Breastmilk (or formula) IS real food. 

And that’s all you need to say (politely) to anyone who asks. I have said it myself when someone asked me if my baby was eating real food. I simply said “Breastmilk is real food.”

The solution: If you feel it’s your business to be asking how someone feeds their baby, try changing the wording to “Has your baby started eating solid food yet?” Notice the difference between the two choices of words?

Real food=judgemental; Solid food=descriptive.

Mindful Speech 

Have you noticed in the above examples that mindful language includes being descriptive instead of being judgmental? It reminds me of “Right Speech” one of the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism where one makes best use of their words (such as avoiding divisive or abusive speech, lying, and idle chatter/gossip).

Mindful speech is great to think about in all areas of our life. When talking to our children, spouse, friends, coworkers (especially about sensitive matters) it can be very helpful to stay with descriptive language.

You may have seen this Facebook and Pinterest meme that says:

Before you speak, THINK.

T – Is it True?

H – Is it Helpful?

I – Is it Inspiring?

N – Is it Necessary?

K – Is it Kind?

(If you like this article, it would mean so much to me if you share it!)

Wendy –

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