Pregnant Bridesmaids: What's the Etiquette?

Lilit Marcus, Shine Contributor

Getting married and having a baby are two momentous occasions. So you'd think that when a woman is about to tie the knot and one of her bridesmaids announces that she's expecting a baby, there'd be congratulations all around, right? Well, not always.

Some brides have turned to wedding forums to vent about pregnant bridesmaids. And rather than being happy for a friend's impending bundle of joy, some have expressed anger and resentment. "When I think about my vision for my day, it doesn't include a bunch of 9 month pregnant girls," one woman, who had three expectant bridesmaids in her wedding party, wrote. "I feel like my whole day is ruined." Bethany Ramos of Mommyish.com rounded up a few of the angriest bride rants, and her post quickly became a flashpoint for wedding etiquette conversations, generating more than 200 comments. 

Another woman expressed concern that a pregnant sister-in-law whose due date was close to the wedding might go into labor during the ceremony and thus get more attention than the bride. "I can just picture my shower turning into a baby shower with her family surrounding her and rubbing her belly the entire time!" she wrote, after insisting that the sister-in-law had purposely timed her pregnancy to ruin the wedding.

So why do some brides think a pregnant bridesmaid will “ruin” the wedding? Jaya Saxena, co-founder the etiquette website Uncommon Courtesy, says that history offers some clues. “To get to the heart of this you sort of have to know the history of bridesmaids, and the fact that "maid," meaning a younger, single woman, was a big part of it,” she explains. “Traditionally married or engaged women were not chosen as bridesmaids, so that cuts out the odds of one of them being pregnant greatly.”

However, times have changed, and so have weddings. “For most people [asking someone to be a bridesmaid is] a way to honor your closest friends and family, and sometimes your close friends and family get pregnant," Saxena says. "Think of why you're having bridesmaids in the first place. Is it to have a bunch of people in matching dresses stand behind you? Or is it a way for you to feel the support and love of those closest to you on a really important day, and a way for you to honor these important people and show that you love them for who they are?

Sharon Naylor, author of "The Bridesmaid Handbook," knows that a bridesmaid announcing her pregnancy can be just one more unexpected thing that throws an already-stressed bride into a frenzy. She advises the bridesmaid let the bride know in person instead of by less-personal email or text. "If your friend is a decent person, they will understand. The main concern is your comfort – can you fly? Can you wear heels? A good friend or relative will think of that first."

Still, there are some practical issues that have to be taken into account. If dresses have already been purchased or ordered, it's up to the bridesmaid to see if she's able to buy a new one or get the current one altered. Naylor recommends that the bridesmaid do her research before talking to the bride in order to keep the interaction as painless as possible. For example, if the dress was on sale and there aren't any more in stock, come prepared with some options for similar ones from other stores or a different style in the same color.

And when it comes to medical issues that might force a bridesmaid to drop out – such as being put on bed rest or not able to fly to the destination – she should make a firm decision about whether to continue being part of the wedding party. "Don't say 'I might not be able to.' You have to know," explains Naylor. "You can't put the bride into some kind of unknown chaos, no 'I'll let you know a few weeks before.' It might be safer to pull out of the bridal party and offer to help from a distance with the shower and support her. She just wants to know she's not being abandoned."