As a new mother myself, I’ve spent the past few weeks fielding phone calls, emails and visits from well-intentioned friends and family – all offering support in the best way they know how. Along the way, my husband and I have come up with a foolproof formula for what we truly appreciated in those first crazy weeks – and what we didn’t:
1. Food trumps flowers.
Babies are born at some pretty inopportune times – including days you have a completely empty refrigerator. We were so grateful to receive an insane amount of flowers, but one delivery that stood out? A fruit bouquet that was entirely edible – already cut and perfectly displayed for a sweet treat during those midnight feedings.
We also had a few family members come over and cook while we bonded with our little one, and some friends brought over our favorite take-out and home-cooked freezer meals.
Extra Credit: Drop off a cooler with grocery staples inside (milk, eggs, bread) with a note attached “No thank you necessary – just enjoy your baby!” The new mother will so appreciate not having to put on her “socialization face” to entertain another visitor, and the grocery staples will mean one less errand in her future!
2. Relieve the pressure.
When making plans to visit new parents, relieve the pressure ahead of time by stating exactly what the plans are. One of our favorite visitors sent an email asking when would be a good time for a 20 minute visit – just enough time to drop off a casserole, hear how we’re adjusting and exchange hugs.
Extra Credit: The word “tentative” goes far. Offer the new family the chance to opt-out by making tentative plans, just in case their new baby has been extra fussy that day – or if she/he didn’t sleep the night prior. Follow up on the day of your visit to make sure it’s still a good time before you arrive.
3. Give it some time.
Although we loved seeing friends and family right away, the first few days of newborn adjustments are a blur. We weren’t nearly as social as we’d liked to have been, and my husband and I both felt like zombies. It’s essentially impossible to host and entertain on no sleep, so looking back, we would have enjoyed visitors much more if we had the first week to ourselves to adjust.
I’ll also note that it took me more than a few days to bond with my baby and learn her signals, so it was hard to watch visitors holding, soothing and rocking my baby right away. (New motherhood hormones are still running rampant, after all!) Now that I’m three weeks in and a bit more comfortable in my own role, it’s a joy to watch other people interact with her!
Extra Credit: Send your congratulations right away (via text or email) and ask the new parents to let you know when they’re adjusted and ready for a visit. In the mean time, offer to run any errands outside the home they might need (I had an overdue library book that was driving me crazy!).
4. Do the dirty work.
Everyone wants to bask in the fun aspects of having a newborn – the cuddles, snuggles and coos. But it was such a blessing to have visitors stop by to clean the kitchen, change a diaper or walk the hallways with Bee when she was fussy in the evenings.
Extra Credit: Communicate to the new mother that you’re available around the clock for the first few weeks. Offer to visit during the happy times, yes, but make it clear that you’re also there for the not-so-happy ones when she might need a break from her new little one.
5. Remember the parents.
It’s easy for the parents to feel lost in the shuffle when caring for a newborn, especially when family/friends seem only interested in the baby. Ask questions about how they’re adjusting, or what their emotions have been like so far. Give encouraging advice about your own experiences (“Everything is a moment and it will all pass.” is some of the best advice I’ve received!), and steer clear of questions that revolve around the baby’s progress (i.e. how many dirty diapers, how often is she eating?). Every parent is different, but for me, I found those questions to be stressful, wondering if my baby was “normal” or not.
Extra Credit: Ask the mother how nursing is going (if she’s decided to nurse). That transition was the hardest for me, as nursing was challenging, so I really appreciated hearing from other mothers that they struggled, too – and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, these are just guidelines. Any support you show for new parents is a blessing they’ll be grateful for, so share your love in the best way you know how!