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Moms-to-be can't stomach strangers' urges to touch

Sure, you want to feel the kick of an unborn baby.

Or maybe you just want to show your excitement for a new parent. Or maybe yet, you - the complete stranger - feel you can relate because you've had kids, too.

Whatever your good intentions, beware. Before you reach out your hand to feel the belly of a pregnant woman, consider whether you need that appendage. You might just pull back a stump.

Turns out, most pregnant women don't want you to touch their bellies. In fact, they detest it.

"I get kind of offended," said Sarah Milroy, a 24-year-old mother from Pueblo, Colo. "It's not OK to go up to someone and touch them."

A month ago, a "tall, greasy guy" stopped her in the grocery store to feel her pregnant tummy, she said.

Her reaction?

"I reached out and touched his," Milroy said. "He freaked out."

At any other time, few people would walk up to a stranger and touch her midriff. So why is a pregnant bump a free-for-all?

Legend has it that touching a pregnant woman's belly brings good luck, which could account for why some strangers want to touch, said Mary Coussons-Read, associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center.

Humans also feel a connection with pregnant women because the ladies are furthering the circle of life, she said. The perception of that bond can lead some to break the standard 2- to 3-foot personal bubble, Coussons-Read said.

"By the time a woman gets to the point where people are walking up to her on the street and touching her belly, her tummy's pretty big," Coussons-Read said. "It might just be that there's a fascination that there's this person in there."

Most moms, however, aren't feeling that whole "mother to the world" bit. Jenny Van Patten, a 32-year-old mother from Colorado Springs, said strangers touched her belly when she was pregnant with her first child. The most memorable was a grocery store clerk who leaned over the checkout and patted her stomach.

"It just makes me very uncomfortable," Van Patten said. "It's like, `This is my body. Do you mind not touching it, please?'"

While pregnant women perceive their personal space expanding, some see the pregnant belly as an invitation to touch, Coussons-Read said.

"When a woman is really pregnant, it seems like she's asking for you to touch her belly because her belly is very prominent," she said. "Though, that's certainly not the case.

Plus, it's just bad manners, say social-etiquette experts. Pregnant or not, touching a woman's belly is a breech of personal space, said Naomi Poulson, director of The Etiquette School in Dana Point, Calif.

"That's extremely rude," Poulson said. "It's never appropriate. A lot of people don't want to be touched, in general. Just because a woman is pregnant is not a reason to cross that boundary."

Basically, proper social behavior says keep your hands in your pockets. And if you just have to reach out and touch someone's belly, don't expect a warm welcome.

"Some women look upon it as amusing; some of them are shocked," said Kathie Martin, president of The Etiquette School of Birmingham in Alabama. "But they certainly have a right to take that hand and remove it from their stomach."

So, moms-to-be, go ahead and tell that stranger "hands off." Swat away the unwanted touch. And if all else fails, try a T-shirt. Go to cafepress.com for the white maternity T-shirt that makes the message clear: "No Touchie."

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