A mom with a newborn has so many new and overwhelming responsibilities, so even the seemingly smallest of challenges can feel cruel. The newborn mama's daily mantra is basically, "Feed baby, change baby, get baby to sleep." Then, of course, she has to receive visitors who want to see the baby and deal with daily annoyances that the outside world imposes because, guess what? Time doesn't stop because you have a newborn. So, sadly, there are all kinds of cruel things people do to moms with newborns – most of which are completely unintentional.
For example, your entire family (including your husband) might go to synagogue for Yom Kippur within days of you coming home from the hospital, leaving you alone with your screaming and colicky newborn. Not that I would know anything about that; it's just exactly what happened to me with my firstborn. My milk still hadn't come in so I was hooked to a breast pump and sobbing on the floor while trying to calm my baby down in his bouncer (no luck on calming the baby, or getting more milk). The kicker? I looked over at my dog and saw that he was happily chewing on the last clean pacifier. Fantastic.
Of course, my family didn't know that I felt abandoned at the time. I told them I was fine, and I knew my husband wanted to go to synagogue with his family. However, if I could go back I would have asked someone to stay behind with me. Because nothing is scarier than being home alone with a brand new baby on your second day home from the hospital, not knowing what the hell you're doing. So yeah, don't leave a mom with a scary newborn all alone – especially if she's struggling (and if she is a new mom with a newborn, chances are she's probably struggling). I humbly suggest that you don't do the following, either:
Make Her Ask You To Wash Your Hands
It is truly unbelievable how many people do not have the instinct to wash their hands before touching a baby. I can't wrap my mind around it. Especially if you live in a city where people have most likely taken a subway and held onto a germ-infested rail before entering your home. I mean, how could people not make a beeline for soap and water before putting their paws on a brand new human being?
I felt super awkward having to be the one to ask friends and family to wash their hands after entering my house when they were coming to see the baby. It felt like the equivalent of having to remind someone to do something completely obvious, like, "Remember to breathe air!" I had just become a new mom, and wasn't into the idea of "mothering" everyone who was coming to visit me. Guys, really and truly, it's so simple. New baby equals defenseless immune system. Wash your hands.
Be A Mailman, Doing Your Job
When I had my firstborn, I was living in the suburbs so we had to content with normal suburban things, like mailmen delivering mail. Being the owner of a bark-happy dog while having a colicky newborn didn't jive. At all. After spending what felt like hours trying to cajole the baby into slumber, I'd finally have a moment to sit down and "relax" (i.e. fold clean cloth diapers and write thank you cards for all the baby gifts). All of a sudden my dog went nuts, sensing the mailman approaching from three blocks away and waking my hard-won sleeping baby. This, dear reader, is the absolute worst.
Ring The Doorbell Or Call Her Land Line. Ever.
This is a complete "friends without kids" mistake, and most friends will only make it once. If you are coming to visit a new mom do not ever, and I mean ever, ring her doorbell. You have no idea how long it has taken her to earn that baby's nap, and you know what, it doesn't even matter. Don't ring the doorbell. Just text to say you're there, and she will open the door. Or, if she's not on her phone, lightly rap on the door.
If you've shown up unannounced, to hell with you. She's napping. Ditto for calling on the land line (if she even has one of those).
Visit Her When You Might Be Sick
Some people have the nerve to visit a newborn despite the fact that they might be "coming down with a little something." Why? Well, as I have heard it explained to me, "I'll just be careful not to get too close. Besides, it's the only day I have to visit." OK. So this is the only day you have available, before the baby turns 18, that you can ever visit? Some friend you are.
I don't know if people realize that if a newborn baby gets a fever they run the risk of having to go back to the hospital and get a spinal tap. That's like, super serious stuff. Can you do everyone a favor and not visit with your "no big deal" head cold?
Wear Overpowering Perfume
You might feel like you are naked without your signature scent, but those postpartum hormones mixed with your Eau de Whatever can make for a barf-inducing elixir for the new mama. More importantly, it isn't so great for the baby either, what with their sensitive skin. The chemicals and scents in perfumes could cause rashes in a baby's delicate epidermis. If the new mom doesn't make the connection between your earlier visit, and the newly developed rash on her baby's skin, she might freak out and go to the hospital for no reason, exposing her baby to icky hospital germs pointlessly.
When I had my first born and we were living at my husband's grandmother's house, we received a lot of visits from great grandma's friends. Great grandma's friends, not surprisingly, weren't hip to some of the "new rules" of visiting new moms. Often, after their visits, my newborn and I were left in a dense smog of strong scents that left me feeling dizzy at times. I didn't have the heart to say anything to these women, however. I just grinned and bared it (and did lots of laundry afterward).
Smoke Before Visiting
To me, this goes up there with the hand washing. If you think it is OK to smoke before visiting a baby, or during a visit with a baby, I think you're bananas. Babies can breathe in the harmful chemicals that seep into the clothes of a smoker (that's where the term "thirdhand smoke" comes from).
At great grandma's house, there was a tenant who lived upstairs and, well, she was a chain smoker. Her whole apartment smelled of cigarettes. Even her dog reeked of them after being fresh from the groomers. This tenant was in and out of great grandma's apartment often, because that was the kind of relationship they had at the time. This means, of course, that there were many attempts to hold our newborn baby. My husband and I had to devise all kinds of subtle ways to avoid letting her hold our newborn, because her whole person reeked of cigarette smoke and that just wasn't going to fly with us. I liked her, and would not have wanted to hurt her feelings directly, but I also didn't want my baby to be harmed by her smoking.
Ask If She Can Wake The Baby For You
It can be disappointing to come all that way to visit a newborn baby and then, bummer of all bummers, all the kid does is sleep. Because it's super frustrating visitors might request, maybe even in jest, that you "wake the baby up for a little while." Well, no. Nope, that's not going to happen. The newborn baby is not here for your entertainment. Think of the newborn baby more like one of the lazier animals at the zoo. You'll get action when it decides it wants to be in action. The rest of the time you're just going to be staring at the twitch of a tail in the corner of the glass window.
Ask To Bring Your Kids Along
New moms and their partners are pretty overwhelmed as it is, dealing with the brand new life that they've just brought home and the brand new way of life that they're living now as new parents. Bringing your children over to visit – with their germs, loud voices, not so great understanding of boundaries, etc. – well, that just brings things to a whole other level of Crazy Town.
I had one friend ask if she could bring her toddler over to visit me and my firstborn, and I was not comfortable with it at all, especially since her child was under four and not completely immunized. I felt differently by the time I had my second baby (and by then had a 3-year-old toddler of my own) but with my first, I was extremely cautious and protective. I didn't like being put in the position of saying no to my friend and making her feel like her child was not welcome. Then again, it would have been best if she hadn't put me in that position in the first place.
Kiss The Baby
Some new parents aren't even comfortable with people touching any body part of their newborn. Other new parents say you can touch anywhere, just not the face. Some parents say you can even kiss the baby, but only on the toes. I think the safest thing you can do is just not kiss the newborn baby. Do everyone a favor and give a little tickle to those adorable feet, but keep that pucker away.
I know I am guilty of kissing baby heads. In fact, I think it's safe to assume I'm a Number One Offender. In my defense, this has been limited to my nieces and nephews, whom I have been invited to kiss, and yes, I have taken the parents up on those offers. But my husband and I were the first on both sides of our families to have babies so, at the time, none of our younger siblings or cousins would have thought to kiss our newborn baby's heads, let alone pick them up without asking us first. This was out of a mixture of fear of newborns and of incurring the wrath of my husband and I. I guess we were lucky.
Peer Closely Into The Stroller If You Are A Stranger
Much like with a pregnant woman's stomach, strangers love commenting about a newborn baby. Some of them go so far as to remove your stroller blanket so that they can get a closer look at your sleeping babe. You know what a new mom really could do without? Stranger breath on her brand new baby. It is creepy when someone you don't know suddenly has their fingers in your stroller and is getting their face close to your baby.
I never knew what to do in these situations. I mean, I knew what "the ideal me" would do out in public when someone was making me uncomfortable and getting too close to my baby. The ideal version of me would say, "Excuse me, but that's a little too close for comfort, can you please back off?" But polite, people-pleasing me would just smile and laugh nervously and hope that the moment passed quickly or that the barista would hand me my coffee so we could leave wherever we were as soon as possible. In general, I think strangers should smile in the direction of a baby in a stroller, make a nice comment if they wish, but that's about it. No threatening moves towards a mother and her newborn, you guys. Not cool.