Mom Matters

Please Stop Calling Babies BIG— Why the “big” word can be so triggering for a new mom

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Like many women, I’ve spent a lot of my life in pursuit of being smaller.

One summer, I remember my quest toward fitting into size 2 shorts, instead of my usual 4, more than I can recall the micromoments of alfresco dinners, runs along Lake Michigan and strolling the streets of our Chicago neighborhood with my husband.

It was no way to live. I thought I’d shed those unhealthy thoughts around size in my 30s, halfway through my pregnancy with my son. But in the months leading up to his birth, the most joyous day of my life, thoughts around size flooded my mind again. Funny enough, they weren’t about my own body this time, but his.

Anyone who’s gone through pregnancy probably has a story to tell about the dreaded glucose test, which happens around 24 weeks. In my case, I received a gestational diabetes diagnosis that turned out to be both terrifying and false, as a second test later that month proved. It was at this point the B word re-entered my vocabulary, though, tangling with my happy, anticipatory, joyful thoughts like kudzu vines.

“You’re at risk of your baby growing really big,” my doctor spoke to me with zero emotion, bringing stinging tears to my eyes that continued on and off for days after.

I’d been working out 5 days a week through pregnancy and eating so well, so careful to hit my suggested intake of fruit and vegetables, and focusing on all the things I was “supposed’ to do. Yet now, I was already seeing myself as a failure as a mom, my falsified condition supposedly bringing my baby into this world already too big by normal standards. I grieved over the thought of imposing this burden of size on him from the day of his birth.

As I spent the last few weeks washing and folding his tiny little sleepers and packing our hospital bag, I kept fingering the newborn size tags on their collars. If he’s born soon, early even, I thought to myself, then he will be able to fit in these clothes. It sadly mimicked an if/then thought process I’d had for a long time. If I can work out harder; if I can choose the salad over pizza; then I’ll be able to fit into this smaller size, and finally be content.

We created a game among two dozen family members to guess the day and weight the baby would come. As we shared about it via text and the responses rolled in, I felt an unfounded resentment toward a few who guessed “big” numbers. Did my brother-in-law really guess he’d be almost 9 pounds?

I was unfairly looking at my baby’s size as a negative refection upon me. If the average baby is born at 7 pounds and my baby was so much bigger — two whole pounds, even — what did that say about me as a mother? Why was my body betraying me in creating this new life to be bigger than he should be?

In keeping with the spirit of the game, my husband and I both wrote down our guesses. I wrote down 7 pounds, trying to fool myself.

When our beautiful son was born, two days after his due date and perfectly on time, I thought the wrestling match in my head over size would evaporate, but it perpetuated.

The digital numbers hopped to 8 pounds, 9 ounces, as I watched them lay my baby boy, my most precious gift, in the infant scale, still covered in afterbirth. My brother-in-law had guessed the day and weight almost exactly right.

Look at all that hair! Look at how big he is! What a chunk!

I didn’t get to go with my baby as he was taken to the nursery for his first bath, and I got wheeled into the hospital room where we’d spend our first days together. But these were the phrases I heard from well-meaning family members in the background of a video my husband had taken of our baby through the window.

The “B” word became increasingly poisonous to me. In the days and weeks that followed, more family and friends came to meet our baby boy, and every time I’d hear “big,” I felt nauseous.

“What a big boy!” “He sure is big!” “Such a nice, big baby!”

Benevolent, sure. Unnoticed, under different circumstances, and by anyone else. But for me in the thick of new motherhood, a puddle of hormones I wasn’t expecting, and my life with my husband of almost a decade feeling upside down, the words were sharp enough to cut me like a knife, from the inside out.

I wanted to protect him from this knife, its sharp point and serrated edges that tear. In a few instances of comments (even from some friends who were also new moms!), it took all my willpower to not snap back. I’d cry in my husband’s arms later, holding it in until after the person was gone.

May our baby never be told he’s big, in any context, I told him. We prayed he wouldn’t grow up in an environment where he believed his size was anything except for perfect; that size wasn’t an issue to think about at all.

When I posted our baby’s arrival on Instagram a couple weeks later, I omitted his weight. It was no one’s business but mine and my husband’s. Yet when other friends would post baby announcements, I’d scan for their baby’s weight. If it wasn’t in the caption, I’d zoom in on the name card inside the hospital bassinet, comparing. Our baby isn’t that big — he’s smaller than this one, I’d reconcile.

A year later and the postpartum fog lifted, I’m grateful now to look back on this triggering experience with new perspective. Writing from scars, not wounds, has helped me to realize that all along, the trouble with size was mine. Our 1-year-old baby is healthy, happy and perfect in every way.

A baby’s birth weight doesn’t follow them around for life. A healthy baby carried full term, to whatever size God created them to be, is the greatest blessing you can ask for. And baby’s size is not something that should ever be a point of conversation, unless the mother wants it to be.

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

Producer Jenny Altman

Jenny is the head of content at Milk Drunk and a writer for all of her favorite wellness and mom sites including Well+Good, Peanut, Motherly and Scary Mommy. Mom to Luisa, she can be found talking bras and beauty with the moms at school and on instagram.