It's hard to know what a new mom will want or need once her baby is born. Since every woman and every baby is different, anticipating the needs of a postpartum woman is anything but simply. However, now that I'm on the other side of it (for now and at least until another baby arrives) I can clearly see that there are some key sanity-saving things you can do for a new mom in the middle of that taxing, draining, exhausting, and otherwise challenging newborn stage. We don't all have to be the same to want (and essentially need) the same things.
Even before I got pregnant, it was made pretty clear to me that the newborn stage is nothing short of a hot mess. I prepared myself to be totally unprepared, knowing there was only so much my partner and I could do to ready ourselves and our home for the arrival of another human being. We followed checklists, we pre-washed onesies and baby pajamas, and assembled furniture (OK, he assembled furniture while I took pictures for posterity), but that didn’t stop the newborn stage from totally knocking us sideways and upside down and all over again.
The good news? Almost every other parent has been through it, so there’s lots of opportunities to seek out advice, resources, and support. Or, if said new mom is totally buried underneath piles of diapers and bottles and unable to seek it out, there are still ways for them to be showered with those resources, too. Alright, maybe not “showered” per se, but thrown a lifeline or perhaps a offered bottle of water, especially if she's breastfeeding. So if there's a woman in your life and she's knee-deep in the sea that is caring for a newborn, here are just a few of the many ways you can support her:
Validate Her Feelings
When I was in the throes of newborn life, it was awesome to feel like I was heard and like I wasn’t alone, so I would assume other moms might feel the same way. You can do wonders just be listening and understanding her. Unless, of course, she’s lamenting that she’s the worst mom ever, in which case you’re free to disagree as much as humanly possible.
Figure Out How To Help All On Your Own
In other words, don’t say, "Let me know if you need anything," and then vanish into the "real world," essentially putting it on her to think of something she needs while simultaneously coming up with a nice way to ask you.
“Let me know what you need,” is a little better, but still not as good as, "Can I load the dishwasher for you?” or, "Do you want me to start/fold/put away a load of laundry?” This is also safer for you as it avoids the chance of her asking for help with anything involving poop.
Bring Her Food…
Ah, the classic gift for new parents: gifts of food and pre-made meals. Honestly, these gems of support never go out of style. I mean, most of us love food even when we don’t have an infant attached to us, so just imagine how good it feels when there is one in the picture.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
...That Doesn’t Require Dishes Or Massive Clean-up Efforts
Speaking of imagining things that are awesome, let’s think for a moment about how great it is to not have a sink full of dishes staring at us. Sometimes dishes are unavoidable, but any pre-planning you can do to limit them will be much appreciated.
Come Bearing Gifts…
It doesn’t need to be a big or extravagant, or even a gift in the traditional sense. However, any token of affection or gear for the baby (or even, like, a pack of wipes or a bag of her favorite coffee) shows that you’re thinking of her and that you’re looking out.
...But Never Show Up Unannounced
Here’s a story: a member of my extended family was in the neighborhood when my son was just a few weeks old. This family member showed up on a whim and interrupted the one chance for sleep I'd had that entire day.
To be fair, she did try to call. On the other hand, I didn't answer and she came anyway. For the love of all that is holy, please don’t do this. Opportunities for a new mom to sleep are so few and far between, it’s safer to just give her plenty of space. On a less dramatic note, you could be interrupting a diaper change, or a feeding session, or some other hands-on activity that turns answering the door into the greatest chore of all time. It’s not hard to prearrange visits.
Suggest Shows She Can Binge
Honestly, any form of self-contained entertainment that she can rely on to stay awake during night feedings is a gift that keeps on giving. I learned pretty quickly that the vow I made to not use my phone when I nursed my baby was slightly unrealistic (especially when I actually discovered how heavy my eyelids were at some god-awful hour in the middle of the night).
Watch The Baby And Give Her Some Free Time (Or, At Least Offer)
She may decline. Or, she may just go into the other room for five minutes to breathe, or take a shower, or close her eyes, or check her messages, or lay face down on the floor, or do any number of things she probably wants to do but doesn’t get the chance to.
Give (Genuine) Compliments And Reassurance
The sky’s the limit here. Is her baby cute? Does her messy top knot work really well in a chic, effortless kind of way? Is she getting really efficient at changing diapers? Are you proud of all her hard work? Is she managing to stand on both feet and put one foot in front of the other? You probably have plenty to choose from.
Communicate With Her The Same Way She Is Communicating With You
Unless she's called you first, or you’re standing outside of her home and happen to notice that it’s on fire, do not call her. Even if you think you’re calling at the safest possible time, you could still wake her or the baby, or require her to stop whatever she’s doing (which could involve poop) to look at the phone and feel guilty for declining the call. Texting is much, much safer. I’m also a big proponent of email, but of course, your mileage may vary there as I know not everyone is. Still, the least invasive is always safe.
Also, have I mention not to show up unannounced?