Can you recall what your first days as a new mom felt like? For me, the answer is "just barely." Regardless of how things look, or what they’re saying, a new parent’s world has just been turned upside down. Which is why even casual comments from well-meaning friends, family members, and strangers don’t always land the way they were intended to. But have no fear, friends, what good would the internet be if it didn't provide you a curated list of what not to say to a new mom?
I mean, for me it was a super-sensitive time. I have no idea where my hormones stopped and my actual feelings started. Those first leaky diapers, the first projectile spit-ups, and the first sleepless nights are all blurred together like a slideshow of struggle, punctuated by the occasional snuggle or gentle baby sigh to remind me that it was all worth it. It sounds trite to describe it as "difficult" or "challenging" or "amazing" because in reality, having a newborn is all of those things and more. It felt like a never-ending game of hot lava, leaping from one safe place to the next. I’d tensely hold my breath until I knew whether or not my son would latch on, fall asleep, or spill out of the diaper I’d just secured. Then, once I got a sign from him that we were through the challenge of that particular moment, I could relax and let my shoulders sink in relief. Safe.
Until the next thing he needed.
This crazy game of ups and downs that new parents play is perhaps why the rest of us might want to be mindful of what we say (and how we say it). Without further ado, let’s consider a few common offenders:
"Isn’t Parenthood Amazing?"
I mean, yes, technically, parenthood is amazing. So are spider webs if you really think about it. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to always be calm and rational enough to acknowledge it when I’ve walked into one of them and now have a sticky mess on my face, am I?
What you could say instead: "It’s quite the adventure, isn’t it?"
"Isn’t Childbirth Amazing?"
Logically, yes, we know it’s amazing, and it's a miracle, but are those the first words that come to mind for women who are still recovering from it? I mean, maybe, but I recall quite a few other words that were more accurate descriptors. All the fluid-soaked memories of screaming pain and pushing aren’t exactly erased from your mind after the baby comes home (but wouldn’t it be nice if they were?).
What you could say instead: "How is your recovery going?"
"ISN’T EVERYTHING AMAZING?"
Just stop calling things amazing, OK? Let the new parent pick the adjective.
What you could say instead: "And how are you doing?"
"Please Show Up At [Specific Place] At [Specific Time] And Be Ready To Function As An Adult."
You might as well just say, “Please sprout wings and fly to the moon and back while your sleeping baby is safely strapped to you in a Consumer Reports-approved carrier, you unreasonable monster.”
What you could say instead: "Here, I brought you some caffeine, a package of toilet paper, and a pack of onesies. Where’s your dirty laundry? I got you. "
"Let Me Know If You Need Anything."
Yes, this is actually a very sweet thing to say, but it requires the new parent to actually do some thinking. He or she might not even know what they need, so naming something and communicating it to you during regular human waking hours is just not going to happen without some serious effort on their part.
What you could say instead: "Here, I brought you lunch and an extra pack of baby wipes."
Anything That Expresses An Assumption About Sleep
I have a friend who was so sleep-deprived during the first days of her child’s life that she was hallucinating. Like, literally hallucinating. Talking about sleep, even if you are only gently inquiring about how it’s going, can be like dangling a piece of bacon in front of a starving vegetarian.
What you could say instead: "You’re my hero."
"I/My Friend/My Sister/Someone I Once Read About In Folklore Left The Hospital Feeling Great."
I don't believe you.
What you could say instead: Absolutely nothing. You keep your mouth shut about that.
"I Loved Having A Newborn!"
Are you a cartoon princess? Please shake some of those sparkles onto me because I needed some of that positivity during those early weeks.
What you could say instead: "Hang in there. Your baby is the best baby ever. It’s all worth it. Here is a homemade pot of spaghetti you can eat at your convenience. You are awesome. "
"Breastfeeding Is The Best, Isn't It?"
Sure, in theory, I suppose it's possible that breastfeeding is in fact the best for some moms. However, for many moms I know, and for me personally, it was not the best. In fact, I'd even go as far as to say that during some particularly trying moments, it was the worst.
What you could say instead: "You are awesome for feeding your baby in whatever way works for the two of you."
"Oh, You're Using Disposables/Circumcising/Vaccinating/Doing Something Based On Which I Am Going To Judge Your Entire Life And Choices And Pareni?"
I know the internet breeds lots of conversations about other moms' medical choices, but I think it's fair to assume that all moms are doing the best they can with the information they have. As long as their doctor(s) approve of their choices, I think curbing our inner Judge Judy is a safe move.
What you could say instead: "Hey, so I'm not going to judge your decisions, how about that?"
"Just Go For A Run, You'll Feel Great."
I know some moms who couldn't wait to start their workout regiment back up, and I also know some moms who never started back up again and are perfectly fine with it. In addition to all the new time constraints that a newborn brings, every woman's healing process is different, so I'd venture as far as saying it's probably not safe to assume when someone will be ready to tie up her running shoes.
What you could say instead: "Hey, want me to watch your baby so you can nap?"
"Your Baby Is Beautiful."
Just kidding, this is a great thing to say to new parents! Pretty much anything supportive that implies no judgment whatsoever is a good way to go.