Are you a mum-to-be, or do you know a pregnant mum or someone with a newborn? Chances are, she needs a bit of help – no matter how well she says she is or appears to be coping, there is always something you can to do help. And often, the help you can offer is of the practical variety.
I’ve been a mum of a newborn three times, and I’ve lost track of the number of occasions where would-be visitors have offered to hold the baby while I go do something. On the one hand, I do appreciate an extra pair of hands when I want to have a shower and not worry about a crying baby while I’m shampooing my hair or wielding a razor. On the other hand, I don’t want to do housework while someone else cuddles my clean, fed, sleeping newborn.
The way I see it, cuddles are my reward for the hard work of giving birth, foregoing sleep, feeding, changing nappies, and doing endless laundry! I don’t want to do more work while someone else enjoys the baby cuddles. And then hands the squalling, wet, hungry baby back to me once the relaxing part is over.
Also, I’m tired. The only thing I want to do as the mum of a newborn, other than care for the baby, is sleep. If given the choice between a fully catered Christmas dinner and four hours of uninterrupted slumber, I am choosing sleep. If I have a spare hour (ha ha) and the bathroom desperately needs cleaning and I’m out of underwear, I’m still choosing to sleep instead.
So if you really want to help a new mum, fold the laundry. Empty the dishwasher. Run the vacuum (if the baby is awake). Take the rubbish out. COOK SOME FOOD. And then offer to hold the baby while Mum eats, and showers, and naps. Don’t even think about mentioning the unmade bed or unmopped floor.
You could also try asking her what she wants, and then listening to her answer. A few weeks ago, when Miss Seven Weeks was only two weeks old, someone I know texted and asked me if they could do something for me. I said that if they could bring dinner one night, that would be awesome, because I was finding it hard to cook or to get time to go to the supermarket. She texted right back to say she’d happily bring a meal over during the week. She never showed. The other day I got another text from her asking how I was and if I needed anything… I didn’t quite know how to reply, “Um, that meal you promised me a month ago would be awesome, thanks!”
It’s okay if you don’t have time to offer practical help. Just don’t overpromise and underdeliver. If you don’t have time to visit or to stay and fold laundry, that’s okay. New mums can feel lonely and isolated, so offer to call once a week just to check in, and listen to her – whatever she needs to talk about, be sympathetic. Post-pregnancy hormones are dreadful and when you’re sleep-deprived, the little things can feel insurmountable. Having a sympathetic ear can make a big difference.
And if you’re bringing a gift for the baby, bring something little for the new mum, too. Lip balm. Shower gel. Chocolate. A favourite dessert from a nearby café. A pair of fluffy socks. A magazine. Remind her that it’s not all about the baby – she’s important, too. Make her a cup of tea, wait for her to ask if you want to hold the baby (DO NOT grab for the baby), and be there for her. Listen to her relive her birth story. Tell her she looks radiant and gorgeous. Don’t stay too long. Be a friend. That’s the best help you can possibly give.
BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.