When I was a new mom, I was exhausted (still am), uncomfortable, full of self-doubt, and in desperate need of help. The best thing in the world for me would have been if someone let me snuggle this brand new love while they cleaned my house, fed me, changed diapers, and to take the baby and soothe him when he was crying. Instead, I felt like I had to do it all on my own. We had far too many house guests staying far too late at night that were not being especially helpful. I love them, but many (not all) of our guests created more difficulty, rather than lightening the strain of our transition. So, what is it that a new mom really needs when it comes to bringing home her little one?
Respect her boundaries
If she laid out boundaries for you before she had the baby, one of the best ways to help a new mom is to respect them unless she expressly states that those boundaries have changed. You can offer to come by, but if you make the offer, prepare to be rejected. And if you offer to come to her, do it in a way that is strictly helpful. Do not do it in a self-serving “I just want to snuggle your new baby!” fashion. If she accepts your invite, plan to be there briefly, unless she encourages you to stay or you’re doing something that allows her a break.
Bring her a meal, pick up groceries, clean her house, hold a screaming baby. Whatever you do, don’t come over only to eat her food and pass her a screaming baby when you’re ready to go. How is that truly helpful to a new mom?
If you are visiting a new mom and want to go snuggle a sweet new little angel, be willing to accept that it may not be what she wants or needs. And if she lets you snag some sweet baby snuggles, let that momma sneak off for some sleep, a shower, a meal, or some alone time. Be willing to change diapers and rock that screaming child (assuming you’ve already ruled out hunger and a dirty diaper) without thrusting him or her at mom or dad. If you want baby time, you should be willing to take the bad along with the good.
Don’t rely on her to be social
This goes along with respecting her boundaries and being helpful, but please keep in mind that this beautiful friend of yours just had a watermelon sized human exit a very small area of her body. She has also had that very small human scream at her constantly when she didn’t properly read his or her mind since they finally met face-to-face. Add to that, this little person is probably destroying her nipples on a constant rotation throughout the day and night, which also means she isn’t sleeping. If this woman loves you enough to introduce you to her most prized person within weeks of giving birth, your goal should be to love her well by engaging with her as much or as little as she seems up for. That means, if she’s dazedly staring into space, let her. If she’s chatting with you, keep it up. Help that new mom by reading her cues and, better yet, ask her what she’s up for.
Unless I’m dropping off a meal to a new mom (which is an in-and-out job), I usually plan to visit for no longer than a half hour. If she wants you to stay longer, she can indicate as much.
Check in on her without expectation
Helping a new mom can come in a lot of different forms. And one of these is just checking in on her. Send her text messages to find out how she’s doing. Ask how breastfeeding it going, how she’s adjusting, how things are going with her and her spouse. Just check in. Having a new baby is sort of like being thrust onto an island with a very tiny tyrant. It’s lonely and your main focus is survival. Literally. So remind her that you’re thinking of her. Let her know you are available if she needs you. And don’t expect her to get back to you right away. Parenthood, especially in those first days and weeks, feels as though its in a timezone all its own.
This is a No Judgment Zone
Let’s face it. Your friend just had her body annihilated, showering is a chore, and eating a nutritious meal is a luxury. So if her house is a mess and she’s in a sloppy, greasy mom-bun sporting a 3 day-old t-shirt, embrace it. She’s a glorious badass.
Hold the baby… or don’t
Some moms, especially if they’re staring down the end of her maternity leave, want to soak in every moment with their baby. That was me. I really struggled with getting help because everyone wanted to come help me by holding the baby. In other words, everyone wanted to offer their preferred version of helping. But for me, most of the time what I really needed was for someone to come help me clean my house, clean laundry, walk the dogs, and grab groceries.
On the other hand, sometimes the best help to a new mom is to be able to pass that baby to someone else and to be able to shower. A real shower. No listening for a screaming baby. No rushing. Enough time to shave, wash your hair, throw on some clean clothes, grab lunch, and just practice some self-care.
Power through the TMI
Maybe your friend wants to tell you her whole harrowing tale of a 45 hour labor, stage 4 tearing, and bleeding nipples. Or perhaps she just needs to breastfeed her baby but doesn’t want to give up socializing with you to do it. Whatever the case, power through whatever may be awkward and just be there.
No Daddy bashing
My husband is an amazingly supportive man. Amazing. But when I had my son I felt like I was doing everything. I wasn’t, but I felt like it. There was resentment about his ability to sleep through a crying baby or sleep while I was feeding. And there was agitation with no reasonable explanation. But hindsight is 20/20 and now I can see how hard those days were for him as well. We were both living in extremes, and it would have made our marriage, and our navigating parenting, so much harder if we had also been bashing one another behind their backs. So when you’re trying to help a new mom and that friend is struggling with her husband, be understanding, but don’t pile on. He will be the one changing diapers when you leave, and he will be the one supporting her when she brakes down sobbing when the maternity leave is over. She needs that support system. So, she very well may be struggling with her spouse, but support her, don’t bash him.
Temper the advice
Your friend very well may pepper you with a million questions, especially if you’ve recently gone through the transition to mommyhood. On the other hand, she may steadfastly rely on the internet, books, a doctor, a family member, or another friend for advice and may be adviced-out. Whatever you do, don’t offer more than she asks for. The one exception to this is if she is really struggling with something and has not received help that has actually panned out for her and you happen to have personal experience with the same exact situation and were able to get the issue resolved.
Love that badass woman
At the end of the day, the best help to a new mom is to make sure that her needs are being met, however you’re able. Unselfishly. Because her husband might be the most amazing and supportive man in the world, but he’s going to struggle-puffing his way through the day-to-day as well. And the best way you can love that lovely badass woman is to fill in the areas she could use your help.