This week my lovely sister-in-law has welcomed her first child into the world. And I know that I’m not the only one that is just dying to go and see her and meet her new bundle of joy.
There is something about the birth of a baby that draws people together. A new human in the world is such a magical thing. The miracle of new life is something to behold.
But from my own personal experience, I found navigating people wanting to see me and my new baby a bit of a minefield. With my first born I had no idea how vulnerable and delicate I’d feel. I not only felt physically horrendous (an emergency c-section will do that to you!) but emotionally raw.
So whilst we all might want to rush and see the new beautiful baby, I thought I’d share some insights to help make the experience of visiting mother and baby a wonderful one.
1. Put the mother first
Becoming a mother is undeniably one of the most intense and overwhelming times in a woman’s life. When visiting it’s really important to put the mother’s needs first. Some mothers might not want visitors for a while, so don’t take it personally. Some mothers might not want to be on their own and will welcome visitors relatively quickly after giving birth. Don’t assume you know what they want, no matter how well you know them. Ask her and give her absolute permission to say what is right for her. As they say a happy mother makes for a happy baby.
2. Don’t take it personally
Put your own needs to one side. I know you’re desperate to see her and the baby but it’s not about you. If she’s not ready to see you then don’t take it personally. The last thing a new mother needs at this point in her mothering journey is to have to consider other people’s feelings. All of her attention and focus should be on the baby and herself. She shouldn’t have to even consider if she’s offending anyone or hurting their feelings.
3. Don’t come unannounced
In the early days after having a baby never turn up uninvited or unannounced. And even if you ask permission to pop over, try and use your emotional intelligence to pick up on the often unspoken signals that they might not be ready and feel obliged to say yes when they really want to say no. Don’t just take the dad’s word for it either, get him to check with the mother first. Also if you’re going to be early or running late let her know. She may have tried to time a shower or breastfeed around your arrival.
4. Be quiet!
Don’t ring the doorbell. Quietly knock the door on arrival or even better text when you’re 5 minutes away to check it’s convenient to still turn up. As sleep deprived parents they may have just got their precious bundle off to sleep and probably won’t appreciate the unwelcomed noise. Be prepared to speak in a whispered tone, act low-key or generally behave in the least disruptive way as possible.
5. Be germ aware
Now we all like to think of ourselves as clean but when a newborn is involved it’s just polite to be extra sensitive. It’s good manners to wash your hands on arrival – don’t wait to be asked, as mum will probably want to ask but won’t out of fear of offending. Please don’t visit if you feel under the weather..… in the slightest. I’m sure mum would rather you rearrange than risk passing on any germs. We know our children can be carriers of all kinds of lovely nursery and school germs so even if they’re not ill, don’t bring them. And don’t kiss the baby however tempting it might be.
6. You’re a helper not a visitor
A useful distinction when visiting a new mother is to remember you’re there as a helper not a visitor. Remember it’s all about the mum and baby not you! That means you put the kettle on and make her a cup of tea, not the other way around. Ask what you can do to help. Is it holding the baby so she can take a shower? Or making her something to eat? Is it emptying the bin? Unloading the dishwasher? Putting a load in the washing machine? Walking the dog? If they have other children is it giving them attention or taking them out for a walk? Whatever it might be, remember you’re there to make her life easier.
7. Bring food
The first few weeks after having a baby are critical for the mother’s recovery. But often new mums are so focussed on their new baby they neglect their own needs and wellbeing. Eating nutritious food is vital to aid her recovery. So if you can cook (or buy) some food that is easy for her to eat with one hand then do it! Even better bring something to stock her fridge or freezer with.
The thing I’d add which is a personal choice is to not bring flowers. I realise that could be a controversial point! I know the intention is really lovely but I found it was just one extra thing to look after. Putting them in a vase, making sure they had fresh water and pruning dying blooms just felt overwhelming with a new baby. I then felt guilty that people had spent good money on beautiful blooms and I wasn’t looking after them! I also got lily pollen on my baby’s gorgeous white clothes!
8. Be mindful
The postpartum period is an incredibly sensitive time for a new mother. The hormonal and identity shift can be overwhelming. The chances are even with the oxytocin flooding their body, the new mum is going to feel anxious and over sensitive. So choose your words carefully as they might land in an unintended way. Don’t offer advice unless you’re asked for it. Also be mindful of your line of questions. Rather than ask “Are you breastfeeding?” try “He looks so healthy”. Instead of “Did your birth go well?” try “Are you ok to talk about your birth?” Rather than “I bet you’re so in love with your baby!” try “How are you feeling?”
No matter how well you know the mother, remember this is a new and often overwhelming time for her. What might seem reasonable under normal circumstances might not be in those first few weeks and months after giving birth. Ask what she needs. Check how she’s feeling. Even asking if it’s ok to hold the baby. Some new mums will welcome the opportunity for someone else to hold the baby whilst they pop to the toilet or just rest. Whilst others might not be ready to share their new bundle of joy with others.
9. Avoid heavy odours
Now most of us practice good hygiene but when dealing with a new baby it’s useful to be even more mindful. Try to avoid strong smells like moisturisers or perfumes. One of my pet hates was someone cuddling my baby and handing them back to me smelling of their perfume. Not only did it interrupt the mother and baby bond (don’t you just love to sniff your newborn!) but made me concerned about all the toxins that my baby was absorbing. The same goes for if you’re a smoker or have cooked strong smelling food. Remember a new mum will have a heightened sense of smell and babies are incredibly sensitive to their environment. If in doubt think a shower with just soap and water and fresh clothes!
Also if you wear jewelry like a watch or bracelet it might be worth taking them off before cuddling to avoid giving baby back to mum with a scratch. Nobody wants to damage such a precious package as a newborn baby!
10. Keep your visit short
Remember that in those first few weeks after giving birth the priority should be for mother and baby bonding and for the mother’s recovery. However lovely it is for them to see you, this must be the priority. So limiting your visits is not only polite but vital to their wellbeing. I had some visitors stay 2 or 3 hours when they came in those early weeks. Whilst the time passed quickly I found myself shattered after they left. It also felt like a personal boundary had been crossed that I hadn’t been able to articulate. So to avoid any chance of overstaying your welcome be clear upfront how long you plan to stay and stick to it.
Finally check back in.
A new mother will probably be inundated with well-wishers during those first few weeks after giving birth. But after that it tends to go quiet. Just as motherhood is starting to get really hard. When the sleep deprivation is kicking in and the oxytocin levels begin to drop. This is when she will probably need you the most.
So perhaps put a note in your diary for a few weeks later. Give her a call and pop over with some food and a friendly non-judgmental ear. Or send her a text to let her know you’re thinking of her and you’re here for whenever she needs you.
Enjoy meeting that beautiful new baby……..but call first…….and wash your hands!