I see many blog posts written on this subject, and most of the time they address small concerns. I have agreed with many of them. But they never seem thorough enough. I’m starting to think maybe I’m crazy. Or having a degree in Psychology with a focus on child development and working in early childhood education for several years has caused me to have strict ideas on what a newborn needs. Also, my experience has shown me plenty.
My daughter is almost seven months old, and I have had a hard time with her infancy. No, I don’t believe I have suffered from Post-Partum Depression. She is a joy. I love her. She is amazing, and I am working hard at my new role as a Stay (Work) At Home Mom. The problem has been interactions with other people. I know having a new baby around is novel. She’s the first grandchild on both sides, and quiet frankly one of the cutest babies I’ve ever seen. I like that people love her. I was just surprised and overwhelmed with how their excitement was shown.
I want to preface this by saying that I have never visited a new mother in the hospital (no, not even family) because I felt that it was an important bonding time for the mother, father, and new little person. I thought it impolite. I have never even visited a new mom until she invited me. I thought this was the norm. Apparently not.
As I shared in my daughters birth story, I had a 37 hour labor (in which time I couldn’t keep anything down, not even water) that ended in a C-section. I felt like I had been hit by two semi trucks. I was exhausted and thrilled to be a new mother. I was also completely at the mercy of those around me, and nothing went as planned. I remember joking with my husband and doula before the birth: The “Let’s put a sign up that no one can visit unless they are bringing a broom or a casserole!” bit. I guess I didn’t realize it did have to be outlined.
My issue is this: I am an introvert. Some would not believe that, because I am friendly and enjoy people and planning parties. But it’s true – I only enjoy talking to one or two at a time, and being around people zaps my energy. I need alone time to recharge.
After R was born, I had zero energy to start with. I needed to recharge. Of course in hospital the nurses and doctors are constantly traipsing in and out, checking vitals and what have you. I’m glad they are so attentive, but it is not restful. And then there were visitors. I had no chance to recharge. I was a zombie.
Our families bombarded us. At least, that is how it felt to me. I know now I should have said something, asked them to leave – stood up for myself and for my daughter. I didn’t have the energy to do this, so instead I suffered silently while my newborn was passed around, while people kept coming in and out trying to talk to me about everything and nothing, while I had to ask several people several times to hand my child back to me because she needed to eat. Worst of all, I was desperate to talk to a lactation consultant in the hospital so I could get nursing going well. Because of the lack of fluids and the c-section, I knew I was starting behind. I wanted to make sure I could get it going right. So of course the first time a lactation consultant was available, several visitors showed up all at once in my room. I didn’t know what to do, so she said she’d come back later. And guess what? I didn’t see her again. A different lactation consultant came by the next day, and was not very helpful and rather dour. I know it wasn’t solely because of this incident, but our breastfeeding journey has been a hard one.
So, thanks to what I know about mothers and babies and my own experience, here it is. The list of how to care for a new mother (and what not to do).
•Call before you visit. This is true whether it is during labor, during the stay in the hospital, or after the new family gets home. Make sure they are ready to receive visitors. If they aren’t, DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. They understand that you want to meet the new little person. But here’s the thing – mom wants to get to know the little ball of cuteness too. She’s earned it. They need to bond before baby has to meet Uncle Joe, the neighbors, and yes – even before Grandma. That’s just the way it is. Especially if they are trying to establish a good breastfeeding relationship. Contrary to popular belief, just because it is natural does not mean it is easy. Respect that. It is also practical – the new baby does not need to be around too many germs or be over-stimulated.
•Be polite and respect the mother’s wishes. When you do visit, please limit the number of people in your group. Nothing is more overwhelming to a new mother than six people walking into her hospital room while she’s trying to nurse. It is likely that you will be able to get some time when you visit to hold the little one and coo at them – all that good stuff. But, ask before you do so. New mothers are tired, emotional, and hormonal. Taking a child out of a mother’s arms without asking is like ripping her heart out (trust me). This isn’t just true during the first couple of weeks. I would suggest never taking a child from her mother without asking, even if you are family. The same is true for handing a mother back her child when she asks. NEVER refuse to give a mother her own child. If you visit and mother is busy bonding with baby and doesn’t let you hold him or her, that is okay. This is not about you. It’s about transitioning a new human being into the world. Be happy in knowing that you’ve had the opportunity to visit. If mom or dad gets tired or something comes up and they ask you to leave, whether it’s been 20 minutes or 30 seconds, you need to be respectful of that.
•Offer to bring food that she can eat. Especially if the new baby is nursing, the new mother is not going to be able to do much of anything but try to rest and feed baby for the first several weeks. In the case of a cesarean, she may not even be able to get up and down on her own. Bringing her a nice meal is one of the best ways to help out. Take out, healthy snacks, nuts – something like that is a wonderful gift. Ask what she’s in the mood for, ask if she has any special diet needs. Think logically – one handed meals are the most helpful. It’s hard to eat soup when you are nursing. Please remember that you are not a guest – you are there to help. Do not assume that just because you brought food it means that you get to stay and eat with the new family. Sometimes they will want company, sometimes they won’t. It’s a good rule of thumb to ask before you do anything.
•Offer specific help I can’t tell you how many people called or wrote saying “Let me know if you need anything.” When fifteen people say that, and you need help with dishes, who do you call? Just assume new mom and dad need help with everything. Call and see if mom needs you to run some errands for her. Call and see if they are hungry. Ask if mom wants you to come over and sweep or do dishes. And when you show up – do what you are there to do then promptly leave. Washing dishes is not a “I get to hold the baby now” fee. It is just the polite thing to do when you offer to help. When you are visiting, see if mom wants you to hold the baby while she takes a nap (sometimes she will say yes, sometimes no.) If there are siblings, see if you can take them out for some fun while mom, dad, and baby can rest at home.
•Bring gifts if you’d like – but make them practical. Sometimes things come up after baby arrives that you weren’t planning. Even if she put half of the store on her baby registry, mom may find she is in need of something once she gets home that she didn‘t think of. For me, it was nursing camis – I had no idea what size I would need before my milk came in. If you want to gift the mother and baby with new things, that’s great. Ask away!
Special note: This is true when buying any baby item, but make sure it is practical. Especially when purchasing new clothes. Make sure the size and style is weather appropriate. For example – I received two or three adorable tank top rompers for R that were sized 6 months. She was in that size around Christmas. She was never able to wear them because they were made for spring or summer. I will, however, be able to consign those puppies, so there is that. 😉
That is my “new mom” list. I feel like it is pretty straightforward. I know everyone in a new baby’s life means well, but sometimes it can get overwhelming. Do you agree with my list? Do you think I’ve gone overboard? I don’t feel that I have, because I know that if it had been this way for me, my mental state would have been much better, which in turn would be beneficial to my daughter.
What sorts of things did people do for you when you had a baby? In what ways were they helpful? Unhelpful? Did you feel respected as a parent?