In Pennsylvania, pregnant women have the law on their side against well-meaning belly rubbers. Is tummy touching really such a bad thing?

All eyes are on my home state of Pennsylvania right now, thanks to a Cumberland County man who just couldn't resist rubbing his pregnant neighbor's belly. Pennsylvania's harassment laws ban such tummy touching, and the well-meaning perpetrator has been arrested.

Despite the dramatic headlines, the state has not actually created a new law making it illegal to touch a pregnant woman's belly — it's just simply shed some light on an existing law. What is illegal is harassment: The Cumberland County man could have been arrested for stroking anyone's stomach without permission to do so.

Rubbing brings good luck, doesn't it?

I admit that, based on this recent development, I am a lawbreaker. I find Buddha-like baby bumps positively irresistible! I try to control my urges and stroke only the tummies of people I know, but I have on occasion taken liberties with complete strangers.

With both of the babies that I lovingly carried, I liked receiving good-luck rubs — especially from other mothers.

With both of the babies that I lovingly carried, I liked receiving good-luck rubs — especially from other mothers. (It makes me feel like I'm part of an important secret society.) It's difficult for me to relate to expectant mothers who don't equally enjoy it.

Of course, I likely would not reach out to a mama-to-be who glared at me or looked otherwise unapproachable. (I wouldn't want her to think I was harassing her!)

Touch me, and I'll break your arm.

My sister Elizabeth, for example, is very pregnant right now. She is bursting at the seams but, as much as I want to get my hands on that bulge, I know she wouldn't like it.

"I certainly do my best not to make my bump accessible to people," says Elizabeth. "I'm always so stunned when someone does actually reach out and sweep their hand over my belly that all the great comebacks that I'd love to rattle off completely slip my mind."

Elizabeth says it's the "Mama Bear" in her that makes her keep her distance to ward off any unwanted touching. She doesn't want someone putting their hands on her 2-year-old any more than she wants someone poking her belly. OK, so she doesn't like belly rubbing because she's protecting her unborn child!

Pregnant or not, I don't shake hands or kiss hello or hug goodbye. I have a very distinct personal space.

Joelle agrees with Elizabeth, but not from a Mama Bear standpoint. "I don't want anyone touching me ever," she says. "Pregnant or not, I don't shake hands or kiss hello or hug goodbye. I have a very distinct personal space." So Joelle doesn't like belly rubbing because she's (for lack of a better term) OCD!

Emma is anti-rub from the rubber's perspective. "It is just not in my comfort zone [to rub a pregnant belly] and I'm not sure why a perfect stranger — or even a close personal friend — would believe they have the right to do this," says Emma. "I guess some people have no boundaries." (Or they're just no fun!)

Please ask before rubbing.

I always ask first, and I would never touch a stranger.

Terri (not her real name) likes baby-bump touching, within reason. "I loved having my belly stroked, and I have a long history of rubbing friends' pregnant bellies," she admits, "but I always ask first, and I would never touch a stranger."

Seems reasonable enough. Like most things, if you're not sure about it, then you probably shouldn't do it. And if you persist without consent, then a Pennsylvania lawman may have to step in.

Fortunately for my sister, there are three hours of driving between us. Unfortunately for her, she doesn't live in Pennsylvania – and I'm planning a road trip soon.

More on third trimesters

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Make a belly cast mold of your baby bump
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