The Importance of Words: What are we hearing in Pregnancy through Parenthood


“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” (Rudyard Kipling) They have an effect beyond their use in verbal communication and last for years within the mind and heart of the receiver. Pregnant women, women in labor, and children are very psychologically open. They receive messages beyond words and often do not have the ability to filter. As a result, things that are said during these formative times can stick in one’s memory for a very long time. I have worked with a woman who remembered negative comments made during her labor when her “baby” was now 68 years old!

We all must pay close attention to what we say and how we say it. If you are in a position of authority or the person you are talking to or about thinks you are, you must be even more careful.

On the positive side, affirmations are used all over the world to empower, motivate and encourage. The opposite is also true. Words can be used to control, deflate, disempower and contain behavior, restrict thought, and interject doubt. I believe one can actually program people to fail by interjecting fears, your own or others, into your conversion with them.

What is a woman hearing at her prenatal visits?

Is she hearing this: “Yes you can!”, “I believe you know how to”, “I trust your body knows”, “you know your body best”, “you should consider all of your options”, “I support your right to make decisions about your body, your birth and your baby”.

Or is she hearing this: “We are worried about you”, “you have these risk factors”, “you are so (short, small, big, narrow, old, young)”, “you have (gained too much, gained too little, have a bad diet, are anemic, have diabetes, have high blood pressure, had a surgical birth last time) and your baby is (too big, too small, laying sideways) and your placenta is (too big, too small, too close to the cervix).”

Imagine how different it would be to have someone who said “Let’s look at all of your options and come to a decision that you feel and think best suits you and your baby. While I may not agree with your decision, I do agree to your right to make that decision.”

What do women hear in labor?

Are they hearing that things are “going slow”, “Not looking normal”, “Borderline”?

Or do they hear “this is part of the process”, “all is well”, “the baby knows the way out”,  “we need to be patient”, “Let’s try this”, “Let me help you”, “you will birth your baby”, “There will be help available when you decide you need help”.

What do women hear about breastfeeding?

“Your breasts are (too big, too small, different), your nipples are (too big, too small, inverted), your milk is (not enough, too slow, not rich enough, too rich, gassy), your baby is (too sleepy, confused, too hungry, unhappy, prefers a rubber nipple).”

Or do they hear “your breasts are designed to make the perfect food for your baby in the right amount, when the baby needs it. Your baby is born with instincts telling her/him how to eat and when. You and your baby will succeed!”

What do our children hear? What do other people say to our children or within ear shot of our children? Do they tell your daughter she is cute but your son that he is smart? Or do they say that your son is a “tough little man” but your daughter is “sweet”?

Our children need to hear that we believe in them. “I know you will figure out this problem”, “What do we need to do to solve this problem?” It’s also important for us to listen, children know more than you think!

Sometimes I hear parents passing on their “abilities” to their children in a negative way: “Oh, she is clumsy just like me”, “He will never be very good at sports”, or “I could never do math either”. What would happen if they said “The biggest determinant of what you can do is what you choose to do and how frequently you try to do it”. Your limits are not your children’s. You may consider them to be yours but they may have simply been adopted by you as a result of something you were told in your childhood! 

Patterns in parenting and communication tend to be repeated unless the cycle is broken. Practice makes perfect, never quit trying to improve. We can empower others through our words and actions. Everyday, one day at a time, YOU CAN make a difference!

Rosanne Gephart, MSN, NP, CNM

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