As women's bodies change during pregnancy, their personal space bubbles do too. You may want to take a few steps away from your pregnant friend the next time you're around them.
If you've ever been around a cranky pregnant woman who you seemed to annoy no matter how sweet you were, don't sweat it. It might not have been you, after all. According to a new study published in the science journal Scientific Reports, pregnant women tend to isolate themselves during their third trimester in order to "keep dangers at arm's length." Therefore, while their bodies change physically, their mental and emotional capacities are under transformation too. So sure, your behavior could irritate your otherwise lovely pregnant friend, but it could totally just be their bodies responding to the fact that there's an entire human being the size of a small watermelon just, you know, chillin' inside them.
The research study was carried out in Cambridge by scientists from Anglia Ruskin University and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Addenbrooke's Hospital. It focused on closely studying and analyzing pregnant women and peripersonal space, which is defined as "the area immediately surrounding the body that our brain constantly monitors." This area is where most of our interactions, pregnant or not, occur with the external world. Typically, it's a circumference that could be drawn around you when you stretch your arm out. Think of it as your own personal space bubble.
In pregnant women who were in their third trimester, researchers actually discovered that these personal space bubbles expanded to accommodate their body's physical changes. Through utilizing fairly accurate audio-tactile tests, scientists were able to determine and measure the boundaries of the peripersonal space during pregnancy - for the first time ever. The study called on participants from all stages of pregnancy as well as women who weren't pregnant. Ultimately, researchers discovered that a pregnant woman's sense of personal space expands during her third trimester, but not necessarily during other periods of her pregnancy.
Regarding the findings, lead author Dr. Flavia Cardini, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, stated, "Pregnancy involves massive and rapid changes to the body both externally, as the body suddenly changes shape, and internally, while the fetus is growing. "Our results suggest that when the body undergoes significantly large changes, at the stage when the abdomen is clearly expanded, the maternal brain also begins to make adjustments to the space immediately surrounding the body. Peripersonal space is considered a 'safety bubble' and it's possible that the observed expansion of this at the late stage of pregnancy might be aimed at protecting the vulnerable abdomen during the mother's daily interactions. So as the mother's bump grows, in effect, the expanded peripersonal space is the brain's way of ensuring danger is kept at arm's length." So the next time you're around a visibly pregnant woman, remember, don't pop their carefully constructed safety bubbles!