Why We Need to Rethink the 12-Week Rule

Are we ‘saving’ women from sharing the news of a miscarriage or are we saving our culture from the knowledge that pregnancy can get ugly.
It's not a tumor or a prawn, it's just a fresh bean.

The 12-week rule is mainstream. Every day parents post joyful, clever, pregnancy announcements on social media...but only after the first trimester is done and dusted.

Questioning this socially-accepted timeline will usually garner a stock-standard reply: there is a higher risk of miscarriage within the first 12 weeks. This answer bothers me because it implies miscarriages should be kept secret too. What about women who prefer to have social support through such a difficult time?

Speaking of support, the first trimester is when some of the worst physical symptoms (like fatigue and morning sickness) present themselves. It's when women make diet and lifestyle changes which can lead to some serious fibbing if people notice (and they will). How many times can you claim food-poisoning or dodge a delicious Chardonnay?

My argument is that such a personal revelation should be left to the parents, not some societal standard- especially when people judge when you choose not to follow the guide. When we told friends about our first pregnancy at 8-10 weeks there were lots of big eyes, gasps, and comments like, "Wow, it's early!"

Let's stop making Mothers do the hardest weeks alone

I genuinely want to understand the reasons why people adhere to the 12-week rule. This is what I've found after speaking to friends, my Obstetrician, and Google but if you have a different point of view- please leave a comment. I'd love to hear it.

Reasons People Stick to the 12-week Rule

1. Most miscarriages occur in the first trimester. The risk reduces to 0.5% at week nine (Source) so why don't we spill the beans at ten weeks if it's really about miscarriage risk?

My thoughts: A miscarriage occurs in one out of every 4 or 5 pregnancies (depending on what stats you read). Miscarriages can happen well after 12 weeks. Stillbirths happen. Is a pregnancy ever really ‘safe’? Of course not. So how long do we wait to celebrate or prepare?

2. The Pain of telling people about a miscarriage. Yes, it would royally suck 'un-telling' people about a pregnancy but isn’t pain part of the grieving process? Should we really expect women to grieve alone?

My thoughts: The realist in me says that open honest discussion around the frequency of miscarriage would lead to better expectation management in early pregnancy.

“Are we 'allowed' to have it qualify as a grief? Are we expected to suffer in silence if it's such a common experience?” Bee Rowlatt

3. Workplace Discrimination. It is illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant but it happens. 

My thoughts: This is a societal problem. It should be addressed. Talking about it more might help.

4. Fear of the Unknown. Some women may experience an unplanned pregnancy and need to process the information slowly.

My thoughts: Understandable however will they magically feel ready to speak up at 12 weeks? Not necessarily. I say, let her speak when she's ready to.

5. Subsequent Miscarriage or infertility. This can be a long, emotional process for couples who have trouble conceiving. They may want to keep their journey private and that comes down to personal choice.

My thoughts: This is a personal and individual decision and your medical journey should be a private one if that's easier for you.

6. Superstition. In my opinion, this is the most intangible reason for secrecy because it implies the Mother is to blame. 

My thoughts: A women can no sooner ‘jynx’ her pregnancy than she can control it.

Where Did The 12-week Rule Come From?

Historically women would share news of their pregnancy during ‘the quickening’ which is when they first felt fetal movements and after several missed periods. This is usually after 20 weeks or the fourth month.

Ultrasounds were developed to detect chromosomal abnormalities in the 1970's and couples could decide whether or not to terminate based on the results (Source.) Perhaps this is the seed that started the whole 12-week-rule societal standard. So maybe waiting 12 weeks comes from the shame of not wanting to care for an 'imperfect' child.

Has it now morphed into something even bigger with more superstitions, taboos, and restrictions?

I used to silently judge people who shared the news 'too early.' As a woman, why would I default to that type of thinking rather than support? Seems rather passive of me not to question why.

So if I can't pinpoint the origins of the 12-week rule, maybe it's time to break it.

6 Reasons to Break the 12-week Rule

1. Society does not have the right to dictate something so personal. The decision to announce a pregnancy should be left to the parents based on their level of comfort and desire for privacy. There should be no societal standard, end of story. 

“For those who want to let people know their news, we should join them in celebrating their news and offering our support not our judgment.” Steph, Writer

2. Miscarriage should not be shrouded in secrecy. For such a universal, human experience, we don’t share about it enough. Some parents may move on quickly, sure, but some will experience a lifetime of grief. We have rituals and protocol for death but none for miscarriage.

3. You won’t have to lie. Most women have to change their diet and lifestyle during pregnancy. I would hold a glass of wine and steadily pour it into my husband’s glass throughout the evening (he was drinking for two and I was eating for two.) Unless you enjoy secrets, we have the opportunity to replace secrecy with empathy. 

“Staying quiet for 12 weeks while you grow a human being inside of you is nothing short of completely insane.” Wendy Zamora

4. We can support women. I have not suffered a miscarriage personally but I can relate to suffering from depression in silence. I tried my hardest to push through, cover up, act like everything was FINE. This reinforces the societal stigma and fear of the disease and I fear the same happens with miscarriage. Let's talk about it, above a whisper.

5. To have boundaries. Today we live in a culture of social media where many people share ‘too much information’ where personal boundaries are often stretched to the limit and beyond. The decision of when, where, and how a pregnancy is revealed should be left to the individuals. End of story.

6. To build a village. Whether you're having a difficult first trimester or suffer a miscarriage, it helps to speak to women who have been there, who can offer advice and support. Having a solid network in place will better prepare you for new parenthood when it happens.

"Let us destroy the ‘perfect pregnancy’ myth. Are we ‘saving’ women from sharing the news of a miscarriage or are we saving our culture from the knowledge that pregnancy can end unexpectedly, that it can get ugly, that it’s not all about cute bumps and a glow."

Conclusion and My Announcement

Let us destroy the ‘perfect pregnancy’ myth. Are we ‘saving’ women from sharing the news of a miscarriage or are we saving our culture from the knowledge that pregnancy can end unexpectedly, that it can get ugly, that it’s not all about cute bumps and a glow.

Pregnancy is not 'polite' and women should not be burdened with making it appear to be.

Writing this today, I am seven weeks into my second pregnancy (probably 8 by the time I publish this). Part of me wanted to share immediately (I found out at exactly four weeks) but another part of me wanted to keep it close for a while because I share a lot of myself online. 

I am telling you our news because you are my people. We connect through stories and your support means the world to me. If this pregnancy does not result in a healthy baby, I will share that too- in my own time. Meanwhile, we will celebrate this bean because he or she means so much to our family already.

Editors note: I've gotten some feedback from women who choose to wait 20+ weeks to share their news. To them, this post probably seems like I'm more strongly advocating for announcing early but only when that helps the woman feel more supported. Wait if you want to wait, tell if you want to tell. Let's embrace the news no matter what. And let's better support women who experience miscarriage.

what do you think of the 12-week rule?

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39 comments on “Why We Need to Rethink the 12-Week Rule”

  1. Congrats to you and the family Dawn !! I am sure that Matt & Vinnie are thrilled. Love you and thanks for sharing your great news

    1. Thank you Evie! Vinnie is the one person I wanted to keep it from but she already noticed a little belly and asked me, "what's in your tummy Mom?" I couldn't lie to her. She's pumped.

  2. Such a great article Dawn. I think it's fantastic that you have brought it up. Why should women feel shame or go along with those sociatial standards! Insane.
    And you're pregnant!!!! Ohmygerrrddddd!!! Congratulations to you and your family. Holler if you need anything. Like from my brain! ❤❤❤❤???

    1. Thank you so much Edie!! I love your brain and all the wonderful midwifery knowledge bomb you have inside. I will definitely shout for shiz! Thanks for the support. XOXO

  3. Congratulations Dawn!!! I hated the 12 week rule, especially after my miscarriage. Thanks for being a badass! I'm so excited for you guys.

    1. I can only imagine Leenie- what an emotional rollercoaster you went through. Thank you for sharing your stories with me as always. Love you Momma. XOXO

  4. I completely agree with you. I chose not to make an announcement on my personal Facebook page with this baby because I simply didn't feel like it. By doing that though many people has commented about my secret... It's not a secret, I just didn't want to announce on social media to people who really don't need to care. Each to their own on how or when you announce but you can't just be a little bit pregnant. Congratulations on your little bean. I hope you are feeling well. x

    1. Thank you so much Karin! It's so adorable and true that you can't be just a little bit pregnant. <3 This time around if I didn't have an agenda I think I would have kept it to myself simply because I don't really feel like a lot of attention but I thought if I harnessed the attention to address an important topic it would be worthwhile. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Congrats again to you!! Hope you're feeling well also- for me, it could be worse (but it could be better). 😉

  5. Congrats lovely lady! I always blabbed well before 12 weeks but I can see why some people would rather wait. Each to their own. Hope you are feeling ok. Xoxo

    1. Thanks so much mah friend! I can totally see both sides as well. And no matter what each woman decides, ain't nobody should tell her when. #dontlikerules

  6. Congratulations Dawn! Wonderful news for you and your family. I hope you're feeling ok. This is such an interesting topic. Generally, I never stuck to the 12 week rule - except with my colleagues. But I suffered six miscarriages and with each subsequent loss (and then each person's individual response to our bad news) I grew more conservative with the number of people I told. Those who were continuously supportive and kind were always the first people we told - always before 12 weeks, usually before 8 weeks. With my final baby (who is now 4) there were very few people that we told. Simply because of all the reasons you talk about around miscarriage. I didn't want to whisper about my lost babies. I wanted to cry about them and for them, I wanted to talk about them, about the people that they would never become. I wanted to talk about the toll on my body and on my emotions and my mental health.

    But there is so much taboo around miscarriage that many people couldn't cope with my openness and there were times where I was literally 'shut down'. One woman (who was dear to me at the time) said "Why do you have to keep going on about it". That made me feel ashamed, like I shouldn't be feeling what I felt. There are other horror stories around how people treated us and responded to our pain, so that made me super cautious. Because of our experience with all our miscarriages I am always very open about it because believe there needs to be conversations around this very common event, and many many women really do believe that it is something that just happens to other people. I certainly did. The shock of that first miscarriage knocked me sideways so I am an advocate for honesty, but only when people can treat you kindly and respectfully.

    1. Collette, thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like a heartbreaking one and also one of strength and resilience. I feel like what you experienced is exactly what I would love to prevent (people's reactions and judgment). Thank you for continuing to be open, for continuing to love and honor your babies who didn't make it. <3

    1. Agreed! Whenever you are ready! You did well to keep it private till month 5. I already look like I've been on a steady diet of frappuccinos and doughnuts.

  7. When I started reading, I was hoping/wondering if you would end with the announcement that you did. So happy for you and your family. Vinnie will be such a great big sister and while you're already a terrific mother, this new baby will benefit even more from your experiences and openness. YAY!

    1. Thank you so much Betsy! Vinnie is so excited- she was the one person I wanted to keep it from (to protect her tiny heart in case it does not go to plan) but she already noticed my belly. Can't put anything past her. Little brother or sister won't get away with anything!

  8. Congratulations! How exciting! I think you raise some very good points. Personally I waited, but that's how I am in most things (and yes, some people guessed with number two - the wine gave it away!) However there are good reasons not to, as you've mentioned. The main thing is the support for those for whom it doesn't go smoothly - Collette's experience is sad and wrong. Hoping you have loving support - and as smooth a pregnancy as possible!

    1. Thank you! And waiting is totally cool too- to each their own. What happened to Collette IS wrong but unfortunately, it happens to so many women. That's why (in my opinion) we need to stray from the rules, the secrets, and the taboos. Even then, if people want to remain private that it's all good. I have had an incredible outpouring of support from women who have lived a variety of experiences and I am completely grateful. Thank you for your thoughts!

  9. Beautiful. Congrats to you and your family! I'm in complete agreement. I waited to announce my pregnancy and felt I was being forced to suffer alone. I told my mom and best friend around 10 weeks and everyone else at 12 weeks. The nausea and vomiting was constant and unbearable and I wish I'd had other women's support to get through it. That's why I broke the rule for my mom and best friend, though not as soon as I should have. If I get pregnant again, I will not wait so long!

    1. Thank you Tarsha! Wow it sounds like you had a nightmare first trimester. It's definitely no good to suffer alone. Live and learn, I'm sure if you have another bubba you will care much less for social rules and do what feels right to you. <3

  10. I miscarried only last week and don't know how I would be coping now if I didn't have my people to talk to about it. When we found out we were pregnant my husband and I only told those who we knew would be supportive of us if something went wrong. Now that something has gone wrong, I am so thankful to have those people. In saying that though I never wanted to tell everybody straight away as having to share the news that I miscarried is incredibly draining and I am at the point now that I don't want to have to talk about it with anyone else. I will, when the time is right, be telling my larger circle of friends as it is not something we should be ashamed about or feel we need to keep secret.
    Thank you for this article and congratulations on your pregnancy!

    1. I'm so sorry for your loss but glad you were able to do what was best. I always thought I would tell the people I would tell should something go wrong- and that's exactly what I did with the last pregnancy. This time I'm shouting it from the rooftops in order to garner attention for something I strongly believe in. I would be lying if I said I'm not anxious about something going wrong. In the meantime I'll try and celebrate this little nugget for as long as he or she decides to stay with us. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Congratulations!!! Hoorah to you and your family 🙂 we spilled the beans quite early too for many of the reasons you outlined above. Love your honest thoughts.

    1. Thanks so much! Glad you felt comfortable enough to spill early. It feels good to be out of the closet. 😀

  12. Thanks for your article, I agree with you entirely. My first pregnancy ended at 9 weeks and I still regret missing out on the joy of sharing our good news before we had to share the bad news. Of course our family and friends supported us through the miscarriage, but it would have been so nice if they could have celebrated the pregnancy news first. I was so looking forward to sharing our happy news and then I never really got to because it became sad news. Also a friend of mine once announced she was pregnant straight away and I thought she was crazy, but she said she wanted people to pray for her that it would all go well, and the more people the better. That made sense to me. If you have those beliefs you may as well take advantage of them! But even if you have no beliefs like that people can still wish you well and think of you and show support for you.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story and I'm sorry for your loss. I think getting to celebrate a pregnancy is so important because even if the little ones are with us for a short time- they make a huge impact on our lives. I used to think people were crazy for sharing early too- until I became pregnant myself. Then it was so much more difficult to keep it secret for a variety of reasons. <3

  13. I really think that the 12 week rule is just another way for society to oppress women. This has literally been the most difficult few months of my life, and only a few people know what I'm going through. Everyone else just thinks I'm slacking at work, have a bad attitude etc, when really I'm fighting nausea, exhaustion, and emotions. When I did need to lay down at work and let my boss know, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable (even though she told me not to worry and was extremely supportive) there is this "tough it out" mentality; that we should be strong and soldier on in silence, but no, really sometimes you need to actually rest. Not to mention that when I miscarried a few months ago I had to basically grieve in silence. It's not right, but because I tend to follow "norms", here I am at week 11, waiting to tell. Why?

    1. I lost a pregnancy this summer and I don't want to jinx this one.
    2. I don't want people to judge me for telling too soon, since we did this past summer and look how it turned out.
    3. It's what I'm "supposed to do."

    I literally googled: " stay quiet for 12 weeks oppression" and this post was my 2nd hit. I'm glad someone is writing about it!

    1. Firstly Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your experience. I’m so sorry that what you’ve been going through has been so difficult. I think it sucks you had to grieve your miscarriage alone and that you’ve been worried about being judged for sharing news of your pregnancy early.

      I told people about both my pregnancies early and definitely got some strange looks. At the heart of this issue I DO believe it’s about oppressing women, hiding the unpleasant parts of pregnancy and trying to make us ‘suck it up,’ as you mentioned.

      There are legit reasons to wait to share (subsequent miscarriage, fear of losing a promotion ect) but I think there are far more reasons to tell early, especially if that is what the woman prefers to do.

      No matter what- society should not tell women what to do with their bodies or reproduction. Period.

      I wish you the best in your pregnancy and hope you feel a huge sense of relief once you finally spill the beans. Thank you so much for reading. Dawn xo

  14. So, this topic is firmly on my mind because Im expecting two under two in oh.... eight months time and while Ive only known for a week the stomach cramps and fatigue are firmly kicking my butt (yay.... for whoops theres a baby). Ive been telling people in person (not a keep things in person) but I think I'll keep it out of social media for a while since telling people and actually getting their reactions is so much fun and social media will rob me of that.

    Obviously the novelty will wear off but at least until it does if Whoops chooses to be part of the miscarriage statistic Itll be the people who I deal with on a day to day basis rather then those who live my life vicariously and dont "really" seek me out that'll know what I'm going through until I invariably let social media know.

    I'm guessing not long left now so enjoy it!

    1. First of all congratulations on the whoops! It totally makes sense to tell the people you see Day to day, those are the ones who will need to support you the most. Great strategy. Ugh, I'm so glad to have the first trimester fatigue behind me but I'm shortly coming up to that yucky third trimester fatigue! Haha! Not long now but I feel like I'm too big to fit into my life right now. Just have to remember it's easier to take care of them when they're inside. Best of luck with your pregnancy!!

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