by Stephanie Gruenke
Your best friend/sister/cousin just had a baby and you’re over the moon. You can’t wait to go meet this squishy bundle of joy. You call the new mama and let her know you want to swing by this evening with a ton of adorable baby clothes you’ve purchased in anticipation for baby’s arrival. This probably sounds totally reasonable—and even helpful—to you. But in reality, it may not be exactly what the new mama ordered.
Nothing about the above scenario is bad. It’s totally fine (and expected) to be excited about meeting new babies. They’re freaking adorable. It’s even a great idea to bring a little gift for baby, but please, whatever you do, don’t forget about mom and the help that she might need.
As I addressed in last week’s post (please read this one to understand a new mother’s perspective), mamas needs are often neglected postpartum. There is SO much focus on baby (and rightly so, because as I said earlier, they’re freaking adorable) but it takes a healthy, happy mama for a healthy, happy baby to flourish.
So, as an excited guest, how can you celebrate the new bundle of joy and take care of mama’s needs?
Step #1: Ask for permission.
Don’t assume that just because mom is on maternity leave (and likely home) you can drop by the house any time. Although mom is home, she’s working hard. She may be struggling with breastfeeding, dealing with a colicky baby, or trying to get precious sleep.
An innocent text that “you’re free and want to swing by” on short notice can cause unnecessary panic for a new mama. She may not be mentally ready for visitors to come or she may simply want to spend quality time alone with her new baby and partner before inviting visitors into her circle. Those are perfectly valid reasons and they’re why it’s better for you to ASK her to suggest a good time for you to visit instead of assuming she’s free for a drop-by. Stay flexible. It’s completely fine for the new mom to change her mind about when you can come visit. And if you’re sick (or even think you may be coming down with something), please reschedule.
Mom may also ask that instead of coming inside to visit during the first couple of weeks, you simply leave a meal outside the door and return when she’s ready to host visitors. Some moms will set a large cooler outside her front door for guests to deliver meals. She’s not being rude, she’s respecting her boundaries. When she’s ready, you’ll be welcomed inside with loving arms.
Step #2: Be sensitive.
Here’s a quick list of things that are best avoided when seeing a new baby and mom postpartum:
- Commenting on baby’s size. While you may have the best intentions in calling the baby tiny or a peanut, baby may have been premature, mom may be struggling with nursing, or the baby may have a health condition leading to his or her small size. While in some situations mom is totally fine with you calling her baby small, in other situations it can really hurt. Please be careful with this.
- Asking if baby sleeps well. Just don’t go there. Ever. Baby sleep is one of those territories where you’re not going to win. And please, don’t judge a baby as being good or bad depending on how well they sleep. Keep your judgements, experience, and advice to yourself unless you’re asked.
- Commenting on the new mama looking tired. Seriously, people say this to new moms. We KNOW we look tired! Just bring us some more coffee and let it be.
- Commenting at all about mom’s size or body. This is the last thing she needs to focus on right now, so even if you want to compliment her, please consider putting attention on something other than her weight and/or body.
- Asking when mom is going back to work. Some moms will already have a plan about how work figures into their post-baby lives, and some moms won’t have made a decision yet. And, even if a mama does have a plan, she’s more than welcome to change her mind. Let her enjoy this precious time without worrying about her career responsibilities.
- Asking about future kids. Let the poor woman heal! I personally didn’t know the answer to this question until almost a year postpartum. Some moms know right away that they want more, but these special moments are about THIS baby.
- Commenting on how much the baby cries. Commenting on a baby’s fussiness is never okay. Mom is already feeling pretty vulnerable, so suggesting that her baby isn’t happy or comparing her baby to others isn’t appreciated. I’ve even seen other people grab a crying baby and reassure mom they will be able to calm the baby (innocently implying that they know the secret trick she’s missing as a mom). Even if it works and the baby stops fussing, it can be a blow to a mom’s self-esteem. Mom’s doing great, let her figure it out while you rub her back and reassure her.
This list isn’t meant to scare you from saying anything to a new mom. Every mom will experience postpartum differently and has a different personality and way of dealing with the challenges. Your job as a visitor is to bring your best listening ear, a delicious meal or gift for mom, and your warm presence. Making her laugh will earn you extra brownie points. Just be there for her. That’s exactly what she needs.
Step #3: Ask what she’d like before you come. List a few options.
You will win at visiting if you ask this question, “Since we planned on me coming over to visit Saturday afternoon, would you like me to bring you tea from your favorite coffee shop, a warm meal, or grab groceries? I’d love to bring you something to support your healing.”
Um, yes, PLEASE. By giving mom options, she feels more encouraged to accept the offer. It’s far too easy for mom to say, “No, I’m okay” when asked if she needs anything because she needs A LOT. By breaking the needs down into a few small options, it seems more reasonable to let the visitor help.
Step #4: Hold the baby, if mom offers.
This depends on the mom, but it’s something that’s not often spoken about. In the first few days/weeks baby needs mom. Mom is intimately connected with her baby and may have a really hard time allowing others (outside of her circle) to hold her baby, even for a few minutes. Sometimes baby will be attached to mom’s breast the entire visit. Sometimes baby will only be calm in mom’s arms. Whatever the case may be, you’ll likely get a feel for whether or not mom wants you to hold her baby. One of the ways you’ll know is if she offers. Usually, mom will offer for you to hold her baby soon after you arrive. She may want a break from holding her baby or enjoy seeing someone else get sweet baby cuddles. However, note that this is on her terms.
If mom doesn’t offer to let you hold her baby, it may not mean she doesn’t want you to. It may simply mean she’s so used to being the sole care provider that having someone else take a turn doesn’t even occur to her. Use your best judgment if you think this is the case. If baby is crying and mom seems overwhelmed, it may be a good time to offer; however, if mom is holding on tight to her baby or if the baby is sleeping in mamas arms, you may want to hold off.
I hope these suggestions help you understand some of the challenges new moms face so you can be the best postpartum visitor possible. If you’re not sure how the mom is doing, you can always ask those close to her (her partner, other visitors) so you can be even more prepared for what she needs. We discuss these issues in more detail in our HMHB community. If you’re a mama or mama-to-be interested in getting more support during your postpartum, make sure to check out our program!
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice.