Over the years I have often heard horror stories about friends, and the family members of new mothers who came to visit them once the baby or babies are home. These stories may sound dramatic, but they are completely true. My personal favorite is the overbearing grandmother who has never breastfed a day in her life but is still apparently an expert- that decides to visit said home, and then instantly sits down to hold her grandchild for a couple hours. Meanwhile the poor mother is expected to pump a bottle so the baby’s grandmother can personally feed the baby, while the new mom waits on her hand and foot. Or worse yet, comes for an extended visit "to help out around the house" but in reality only helps by, once again, holding the baby constantly so the new mom can cook for her guest and clean house. Now the unhelpful visit is prolonged for days or weeks, leaving the new mother frazzled and nervous.
Let’s see if you’ve ever done this to a friend. You can’t wait to visit your friend to see the new baby, so you decide to pop over to her house unannounced, sit down while she offers you a cold drink, and immediately comment on the state of her house. Or worse, you say something totally inappropriate after being there for hours like “Girl that baby is always on your boob, aren’t you getting tired of that ”. Then you make a crack like “Maybe breastfeeding or parenting isn’t for you because …..” After all you are only trying to be helpful by pointing out obvious things that can be improved. Or are you the friend who has long forgotten what is like to have a newborn so you bring over young children. Who like all young children, are often loud, sticky, or sick or all three at the same time and like all curious children want to touch the baby with their sticky little hands. Imagine how you would have felt years ago if someone did that to you. To top it off, you talk about your vaginal tear or C-section incision that didn’t heal for weeks and the horrible sore nipples you had that lasted for weeks. Plus, you didn’t get any sleep at all for the first year. Then go on to talk about the horrors of teething and ear infections plus a few trips to the ER. At this point you have officially terrified your friend. Congratulations.
While there are lots of wonderful friends and family members out there who are of tremendous help to new moms, the majority of people are still totally clueless how to be really helpful.
A few things you can do:
Bring food when you come, call beforehand and ask the mother what her favorite food is.
Ask what needs cleaning around the house. Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, etc.
Offer to watch the baby or babies while she takes a shower.
Change the baby without being asked especially if you are staying for a few weeks.
Get up and bring the baby or babies to the mom if they need to be fed in the middle of the night and change them first if necessary.
Offer to walk or rock a fussy baby especially if she is exhausted.
Prepare diner or lunch.
Buy groceries or items the new mom may need.
Offer to watch the baby so the mother can take a nap during the day.
The most important thing you can do:
Listen to her fears without being judgmental.
Tell her you love her and she is doing a good job.
Don’t give unsolicited advice, if she wants your opinion she will ask.
Hold her when she cries and let her know you support her.
Other things to keep in mind:
Follow her rules for feeding and sleeping routines. Child rearing practices have changed greatly over the years, so what may have been status quo years ago, may now be contraindicated.
When you visit, help the mother feel relaxed. Don’t expect to be entertained.
Concentrate on “mothering the mother”, not taking over her role as a mom. This can undermine her confidence as a new mother.
Offer to take care of an older sibling for the day or a few days if possible to give the new mom a break. Sometimes having a second or third baby is even harder because everyone assumes the mother is an old pro and doesn’t need help.
If she is the mother of multiples she will need help for many months not just a few weeks.
Don’t ask negative questions like “Are you sure that baby is getting enough to eat?” or “Why isn’t he sleeping through the night yet?”
What if you live far away and can’t come? Look online and hire a maid service for a day or find a food delivery service. Call when you can and be a good listener. Ask relatives or other friends in the area to step in and help. Better yet organize a rotation schedule of friends or family to help when you can’t be there and make sure everyone complies.