Go ahead and share this page, new mums and dads – Breastmates founder and mum of two Frances McInnes shares things that help in the early days.
Oh, how exciting! You’ve just received the late-night text message or early morning phone call announcing the birth of your newest niece, nephew, grandchild, godchild, or good friend’s tiny bundle of joy. No doubt the first question on your lips will be, “When can I visit?” But before you make a beeline for the florist’s or the local baby boutique, take a few minutes to think about what the new parents really want and need from their nearest and dearest at this special – but stressful – time.
Never wake the baby
Newborns sleep. A lot. You may find it frustrating that your new little niece is always zonked out when you’re around, because you want to get a look at her eye colour and feel those tiny fists grasping your fingers. But one of the most irritating things a new parent hears is, “When is she going or wake up?” or “Surely she’s had enough sleep by now!” Resist the urge to touch a newborn when her mother isn’t looking, and if she’s asleep in her cot, for heaven’s sake, leave her alone!
Always take food
New parents are usually exhausted, wild-eyed, slightly panicked, and stumbling through the days in a sleep-deprived fog. The last thing on their minds is cooking. Create a simple, nutritious meal at home, pack it in an easy to-heat, disposable container, and call or text message to let them know you’ll be dropping off a meal at dinnertime. Then do just that – knock softly, hand over the food, tell them you don’t need the container back, and skedaddle. A handy tip: Write the reheating instructions on the lid or foil cover in permanent marker, along with how long it will last in the fridge or freezer.
Never comment on the state of the house
New parenthood is fraught with responsibilities, and quite often the housework is one of the first things to slide when you’re up all night with a newborn baby, breastfeeding, doing endless amounts of laundry, and somehow learning what this little creature needs to survive. Don’t even think about commenting on how messy their house is. If you’re a really good friend, you can offer to help tidy up while the new mother looks after the baby. Or consider treating them to a gift certificate for a local cleaning company to come over and do a one-off houseclean. But be careful how you present this gift – you don’t want to come across condescending. If you’re a parent yourself, say something like, “I remember when my baby was born and I never seemed to find the time to tidy up! I hope this eases things a little for you.”
Always offer to run errands and help out
If you’re on your way over for a scheduled visit, call and ask if the new parents need anything picked up from the supermarket. Mention that you’re stopping at the local fruit and vegetable shop and ask what their favourite fruit is. Ask if there are any treats they might like. New mothers often find that chocolate is off the menu when they start breastfeeding (because of the high caffeine content), so check whether they’d like some fresh fruit or baked goods instead.
Never outstay your welcome
Don’t expect to turn up on the doorstep and stay for hours, unless you’ve been specifically asked to do so! Limit your visits to no more than half-an-hour during the first few weeks, and never turn up unannounced. Always check to make sure it’s an appropriate time to visit, and if the new parents seem stressed out when you arrive, offer to return at a more convenient time – and don’t take it personally if the new parents are distracted or unattentive to you, or if a new breastfeeding mum needs to feed her baby and doesn’t feel comfortable feeding in front of you just yet.
Always listen and ask questions
Let the new parents lead the conversational direction! If they want to talk endlessly about the birth, the way they spend their days, or how many soiled diapers their new baby creates in a 24-hour period… Let them. New parenthood can be monotonous in the extreme, and many new mothers and fathers need to talk about what’s going on just to get it out of their systems and normalise what’s going on.
Never offer unsolicited advice
The new parents are doing the very best they can, and unless you see something obviously dangerous to their health or the health of their newborn baby, bite your tongue. This is not the time to offer your opinion on breastfeeding versus formula-feeding, vaccinations, sleep routines, etc. If you are asked for your opinion, give it gently, and remember that the new mum or dad might just be looking for some words to reinforce their own ideas.
Always wash your hands and ask before holding the baby
It’s common sense and good manners to wash your hands before holding a newborn, so just do it. No need to ask about the hand-washing – the new parent will be silently grateful you took the initiative. Also, never grab for the baby, especially if he or she is crying. Always ask if you can have a “quick cuddle” and if the new parent hesitates, take the hint. Over the next several months you’ll have oodles of opportunities to hold the growing little one, but in the first few weeks, many new parents like to keep their baby close while they learn to trust themselves. Once they trust that their baby won’t “break”, they’ll feel more comfortable about others holding him or her.
Never expect to be offered refreshments
If you want a cuppa or a cold drink, get it yourself, and make sure to offer the new mother and father a drink as well. And don’t go away grumbling that the cookies you brought didn’t get opened.
Always compliment the new parents
Of course you’re there to see the baby, but remember the new parents need support and praise at this vulnerable time! Boost their confidence by commenting on how well they are doing and how healthy their baby is. Tell them you’re proud of them and you think they’re doing an amazing job. It might just be the boost they need!
Frances McInnes is the Director of online maternity store Breastmates (breastmates.co.nz), and believes in encouraging and empowering mums to believe in themselves and celebrate the amazing job they’re doing.
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.