Lets just go ahead and say it: Having a baby is HARD. No, we don’t mean enduring 40-43 weeks of growing a new human being within your uterus, or laboring for days… no, that only marks the beginning of the difficult/beautiful/challenging/glorious lifetime of parenthood.
We’re talking about those first weeks with a newborn. Adjusting to life with a shrieking, red-faced, adorable little squishy babe while your postpartum body proceeds to ache, heal, and leak some sort of fluid from seemingly every inch of it. Your hormones go a little wild, as your body realizes it’s no longer pregnant and now needs to produce milk. You struggle to sleep when the baby sleeps because your baby seemingly hates to sleep, or because the visitors just keep coming. Nothing is like it was, and while you keep telling yourself “it’s all worth it,” you are beginning to seriously question that.
Then… your Aunt Linda comes to town. She remembers what it was like to be a new mother, all those years ago. She comes over one day, and by the time she leaves, you wonder why she was the only visitor that truly helped. You vow that you’ll start being more helpful to your friends when they have a new baby, and you’ll be that person who truly helps. When your friend has a baby the following year, you know just what to do to make things a bit easier on them.
1. Bring food. Not food for you to share with them during your four hour visit, nope, because you’re just going to drop off this food and leave. If you’re not sure what to bring, text the family and ask if they have any preferences for the meal you’d like to drop off. Slap on your apron, whip up your famous lasagna and a fresh salad (throw in some chocolate chip cookies, because postpartum hormones), then find out when the family would like you to bring it over. Assure them you won’t be staying. Did I mention you should just drop the food off and leave? Okay, great.
2. Keep visits short. The family invited you to come for a visit, awesome! You can go to their house and visit… for a max of two hours. Stay aware of social cues. Is the new parent yawning? Time for you to leave! Also, bring food. Consider it your entry ticket. Food > another baby outfit. I hope I don’t need to mention that you should be 110% healthy when you visit, right? Hell hath no fury like a mother who witnesses someone sniffle around her two week old baby. Nobody needs that stress, or a sick baby, because you were so eager to hold a baby. And while we’re at it…
3. Don’t expect to hold the baby. If you ask most new parents what would be most helpful to them during the postpartum weeks, most will not tell you “Gee, I just wish people would hold my baby for me.” Shockingly, most new parents are pretty happy to snuggle on the couch with their new baby 24/7. What CAN you do? Get the parents a drink or something to eat. Listen to them vent or talk about their birth. Throw in a load of laundry. Ask the parents how they’re feeling. You get the gist, right? You’re not a guest right now, you’re a lifeline! Since we’re talking about the baby…
4. Don’t be a baby snatcher. So, mom asked if you’d like to hold the baby… by all means, get your “baby fix” or whatever you call it (you weirdo), and hold the baby. After, say, 5-10 minutes or so, give the baby back. Some parents may be too nice to tell you they don’t want you to hold their baby, or that they’d like their baby back. Don’t be the person that makes them feel anxious! Also, if mom is hovering around, mentioning how she’d like to feed the baby, or if the baby is crying… give the baby back immediately. You wouldn’t keep a bear cub away from it’s mother, so don’t make someone go all mama bear on you because the baby is crying and you feel like you need to prove that you can soothe a baby. If you’d like to soothe a crying baby, come by in the middle of the night and have at it.
5. Please skip the perfume or other strong scents. Not only are pregnant/postpartum moms more sensitive to strong odors, they also don’t want their baby to smell like they took their first bath in Chanel. A new mother probably hasn’t showered in a few days anyway, and won’t judge you if you show up without your signature scent. They totally would have let that baby wear that onesie to bed and maybe even again the next day, but now they have to do a load of laundry just to get Elizabeth Arden out of their home.
6. Keep the unsolicited “advice” to yourself, please! Raise your hand if you’ve been told or heard someone tell a new parent “Enjoy every second, someday you’ll miss this” or “She’s eating again? She’s just using you as a pacifier now” or “Just wait until you have a second kid” or “I wouldn’t let my toddler eat Cheerios with all the pesticides they have in them.” For whatever reason, pregnancy and parenthood are like red flags that someone’s open to receiving unwanted tips and comments from every direction. Simply listening, allowing them to vent/cry/brag, and being a nonjudgmental sounding board will earn you a lot more credit.
7. Reflect on your own postpartum period, if you had one. What was helpful? What do you wish others had done for you? If you wish you’d had more help during that time, now is your time to make a difference and help to change things for this new family. Was your worst memory from that time the fact that you let every visitor hold your baby, when you didn’t actually want to? The fact that you had visitors at all? Or that you weren’t brought a single meal and had to prepare and cook dinners yourself 3 days after giving birth? Make a promise to yourself that no new family, under your watch, will need to worry about those things. As Ghandi advised, “be the change you wish to see.” Be like Aunt Linda.