Those first hours, days, and weeks of adjusting to a new baby are challenging and can at times be overwhelming. Help from friends and family can be a huge relief to new parents but sometimes well-intentioned friends & family can add to the new parents’ stress levels. Here are some simple steps you can follow to be the best visitor a new family can hope for!
1. Call / text ahead of time
Try not to assume that because you are a close family member or the very bestest friend that you are welcome to pop in at anytime. Even if you are an expert in parenting, breastfeeding, postpartum care (yes, us doulas follow these rules too!) every baby and family needs time and space to settle in together and to figure out their own schedule. Your visit needs to fit in with the baby’s schedule (which is always changing) not your own schedule.
Don’t take it personally if mom and dad don’t want any visitors for awhile.
It’s not you – it’s the baby.
2. Stay away if you are sick
If you feel like you’re coming down with something, or you’re in the middle of fighting off a cold, please send your best wishes via email, text or a phone call. Don’t risk the health of the baby or the parents just so that you can see the baby.
3. Wash your hands when you enter the house
This one is a no-brainer. Upon entering the house, please head directly to the sink and give your hands a thorough washing with soap and water to help prevent the spread of germs, especially to the new baby.
4. Bring food
When you are invited to come over consider bring a freezable meal with you. Make sure that you prepare something that the family will eat, this means calling ahead to get menu options if you’re not familiar with their favourites. Remember to ask about food allergies and if older siblings are picky eaters. Your gourmet meals may taste awesome, but maybe that older sibling wants mac n- cheese more than anything!
5. Get your hands dirty
Come with a heart to serve. Don’t ask, “How can I help?” Most people are a little embarrassed to ask visitors (even close friends and family) to wash dishes, sweep, or fold laundry, so be proactive and tackle what clutter you see. Make sure though that you clarify where to put things, so that the parents aren’t searching for misplaced kitchen utensils later.
6. Spread the love
Older siblings can feel neglected, uncertain about their place in the family and even a little jealous of the baby, so be sure to greet them first before you see the baby. Talk to them about their new and exciting role as big sister or brother. Bringing them a little gift or token is helpful too, especially if you are bringing something for baby.
7. Don’t expect to be entertained
New parents should not feel obligated to entertain guests. Eat before you visit and let them know that they do not need to prepare any food or tidy up for your arrival. Do not come with expectations to hold the baby or even see mom & baby – especially within the first couple of days. It could be nap time, or feeding time, and mom may want to to those things in the privacy of her bedroom or the baby’s nursery.
8. Respect the family’s parenting choices
Unsolicited advice can sometimes be taken as criticism, especially when new parents are trying to figure things out. Offer advice if you are asked. Keep in mind that parents are constantly being told how to do things from media, family, friends, health professionals and even strangers. If mom is breastfeeding do not offer to give the baby a bottle in order to “give mom a break”. Bottle feeding can cause breastfeeding challenges in those early days and weeks after birth so your helpful offer may do more harm than good. Understand that there are multiple parenting philosophies and that there are generational and cultural differences at play as well.
9. Tread lightly on the topic of birth
Try not to bombard mom with too many questions about the birth or their experience unless the mother is willing and ready to share those details with you. If a mother does shares her birth story with you and is was a challenging or traumatic experience, respond compassionately and please do not respond with a sentiment such as “at least you and the baby are healthy” – this may cause her to feel that her emotions are not valid and could possibly prevent her from sharing her story with others, which is a part of the healing process.
10. Keep your visit short and sweet
Keep your visit to the point, say hello, prep food, tidy up, ask if there is anything else they need from you and keep your visit short. Remember, parents may be too tired for small talk or lengthy conversations.
Keep your visit short.
Say hello, prep food, tidy up.
Ask if there is anything else they need.
Helpful visitors are welcomed back with open arms. As baby grows you will become a very special person in their lives and have many more opportunities for social (as well as helpful) visits.
Sarah Baker is a the co-owner of Lifetime of Love Doula Services. She has been supporting families for almost a decade as a birth doula, postpartum & infant care doula and childbirth educator. She is mom to three boys, twins and a singleton.