My mom always said, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." I don't always follow her advice, to be honest, but for the most part I try to make a positive impact with my words. My efforts usually double when it comes to supporting new moms, too. In my experience, and as a culture, we have a tendency to say things to new moms that are problematic at best, and potentially harmful at worst. So trust me when I say new moms need all the help and support they can get and we can give them.
I don't think most people go out of their way to be intentionally rude to the new mom struggling to care for her newborn. But, as a whole, we have a set of severely unfair and unrealistic expectations for new moms that are, for the most part, completely impossible to meet. So, more often than not, even talking about new motherhood can make a mom feel as though she's somehow failing, and simply because our societal view of new motherhood is romanticized and, let's face it, impossibly fake.
For example, people seem almost obsessed with childbirth, like it's some romantic, beautiful thing. The same goes for exclusively breastfeed, losing the baby weight immediately after delivery, and being happy every second of every minute of your blurry, postpartum life. I'm not saying these things are impossible, but meeting these socially contrived goals is incredibly difficult, even for privileged moms who have help, financial means, and a supportive partner.
How we talk to new moms is important, and can actually poke holes in those unrealistic expectations so the postpartum women in our lives don't feel as if they're failing to achieve some impractical ideal. With that in mind, and because we can always strive to do and be better, here are some of the problematic things we all say to new moms:
"Don't Worry, You'll Bounce Back In No Time"
When I was a new mom, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about my changing body, how much weight I gained during pregnancy, or whether or not I was able to fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans postpartum. I had more important things to focus on than some arbitrary number on a scale. The pressure to look a certain way post-pregnancy is dangerous, so if you really want to help a new mom don't talk about her body at all.
"Oh Good It's A Boy"
People were way too damn excited to learn my second child was a boy. I didn't need to hear about having "one of each" and I didn't need to listen to people talk about how happy my husband must have been to finally have a boy to play with. It was not my "duty" to birth a boy baby, people.
"Breast Is Best"
There are literally thousands of completely legitimate reasons why the phrase "breast is best" is not only inaccurate, but harmful to women and their babies. After all, breast actually isn't always the best option for every baby, every parent, and every family. We have got to stop promoting exclusive breastfeeding at all costs to new moms, especially when it's a mom's mental or physical health that suffers.
"Did You Birth 'Naturally?'"
In my experience, when people ask to hear your birth story they really want to know if it has measured up to their idea of an ideal birth. And if someone asks if you gave birth "naturally," they're really wondering if you had any pain management during labor and delivery. Um, people, having an epidural or any other type of pain medication doesn't change your birth into some unnatural phenomenon. You still gave birth to a baby, whether you had your child in the woods or in a hospital or in an operating room via C-section.
"Did You Tear?"
I do not wish to discuss the state of my perineum or vagina with anyone except maybe my health care providers or my partner. I'm guessing a lot of new moms feel the same. So can we, please, stop assuming that we have a right to know about another person's body simply because they used that body to grow and birth another human being?
"So, When Are You Having Another Baby?"
I've birthed three babies and every single time someone has asked me when I planned to have another baby while I was still at the hospital. I mean, no pressure or anything. Any woman's reproductive future is no one's business, but does a new mom who just went through pregnancy and childbirth really need to feel pressured to do it all over again? No. The answer, of course, is no.
"How Far Along Are You?"
No one told me that I would still look pregnant for a couple of weeks after delivery. No one. So when I went to my doctor's office for my six-week postpartum visit and a nurse asked how far along I was, I was devastated. I mean, my chart was right there.
"Sleep When The Baby Sleeps"
Sleeping when the baby sleeps is the biggest damn lie of new motherhood. During the day I was either too over-caffeinated to sleep, or too anxious about my ever-growing to-do list to actually relax. I had one baby who would only sleep for an hour at a time between feedings, one who would only fall asleep while nursing, and another who would only nap while being held. When people gave me this "helpful" piece of advice it made me feel like I was doing yet another thing completely wrong.
"You Look Tired"
Why would anyone say this? I suppose they might actually be trying to express concern, but when you say "you look tired" what a new moms hear is "you look bad." If you want to help a new mom out, offer to help instead of commenting on her appearance.
"Is He Or She A Good Baby?"
I really hate the implication that some babies are good and others are bad. A baby fussing or crying or struggling to sleep or being sick doesn't make them a "bad baby," whatever the hell that means. And implying that a mom has a "bad baby" on their hands is a subtle dig at their new parenting skills, and a time when they're learning the ropes of motherhood.
"You'll Never Have Sex Again"
I am so tired of this myth that new moms are doomed to live a sexless existence for the rest of their lives. Yes, it's OK to wait as long as you need or want after childbirth to have sex, even longer than the "six-week wait" if you aren't ready or don't feel like it, but plenty of moms feel like hopping back in the proverbial sack after having babies.
Yes, sex after kids takes creativity. Yes, you'll occasionally get interrupted. But postpartum sex is a thing, people. Moms have sex. It doesn't make them "bad moms" and it certainly doesn't make them harlots.