So you're going to visit your friend and her new baby. You've got an adorably monogrammed baby gift (beautifully wrapped, obviously) and arms ready to cuddle that precious newborn. But what are you going to talk about? How do you begin to talk to someone who has been through something so monumental? The truth is you can just talk to her the way you always have. After all, she had a baby; she didn't turn into an alien or anything. There are a few things every new mom needs to hear, though, so maybe try to incorporate a few into your conversation.
Most of these items revolve around a few main themes; we'll call them The Three Cs: Chores, Confidence, and Compassion. Chores is pretty self-explanatory, right? She's busy and recovering and exhausted, so hook a girl up. Bring some rubber gloves and an apron. Confidence has to do with helping boost hers. New babies are daunting and being a mom is extremely challenging, especially when you consider you're flung into (in many ways) the worst of it all at once. Do you know what counts as "easing in" to motherhood? Delivering a damn baby. That's "easing" into motherhood the same way Jack and Rose were "eased" into the North Atlantic in Titanic.
The third C, compassion, is perhaps the most important. Treat the new mom with gentleness and care. See where she's coming from and respect her choices, boundaries, and experience. In all things, not just this, compassion is rarely a bad choice.
This is all very general, though. So, how can we turn these basic concepts into concrete things to say? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
"How Do You Feel?"
It's very easy to go visit a mom and new baby and focus all your attention on the new, adorable little creature you're just meeting. It's just so squishy and cute! It's like a tiny human stuffed with rainbows and sunlight and internet animal memes and something that makes their tiny little head smell amazing. And the mom is probably happy to oblige, because she likes them even more than you do, probably.
The mom in question has been through a lot, though, yet she's sort of moved out of the spotlight so it can shine on her little one. Show her a little it of love by letting her know that she's still her own person and worthy of attention and concern as well.
"Can I Do [A Specific Chore]?"
Two well-meaning but off-the-mark offers friends and family make to new parents include, "What can I do?" and, "If you need anything just call."
These aren't bad or rude things to say, but there are a few logistical problems. For one, the person you are asking doesn't know what you are willing to do. Like, what if you asked "What can I do?" and I responded "Paint my house!" That puts everyone in an awkward position. Of course, more likely, the new parent doesn't want to ask for help on a task that they might think is beyond someone's willingness to do, so they won't ask for anything at all. This is also the problem with "If you need anything just call." When would that be OK? Will you drop everything and come over? Do you mean during certain hours of certain days? What are the parameters here?
So it's much better to say something like, "Can I clean your kitchen? Do your laundry? Cook dinner for you?" This lets a new mom know what you are comfortable doing. If she doesn't need anything you are offering but has another task in mind, she can compare that against what you've offered and feel more confident asking for help knowing what you'd be willing to do.
"I Made You This Freezer Meal"
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a new baby must be in want of a meal. She will likely not, however, have the time, strength, ability, or inclination to prepare it herself. This is where "loved ones" can promote themselves to "the most loved ones."
"I've Got The Baby, So Go Sleep"
This new mom in your life is not getting enough sleep, you guys. She's just not. Even if her baby is a relatively good sleeper, the vast majority of infants are going to break up a new mom's sleep in ways that will unsettle and disorient her. It takes a lot of getting used to and naps are clutch. Unfortunately, naps can't always happen for a new mom (especially if she has an older child to care for, too). You taking charge of her baby and "giving her permission" is a sweet gesture that can afford her some well-deserved rest.
"That's Totally Normal"
This is particularly important for first-time moms. I had no idea what was actually normal behavior for a newborn and what was worthy of concern, a call to the pediatrician, or a trip to the ER. You know when babies just randomly shake? Like, they have that weird little baby shiver? That scared the hell out of me because I was convinced my son was having a seizure.
He wasn't. It was totally normal.
So if you are someone who has been through the whole mom thing yourself, feel free to provide calm reassurance that whatever weird thing her baby is doing.
"It's OK To Call Your Pediatrician"
New moms can be super insecure. Not in an annoying way, but in a way that's perfectly understandable for someone who is undertaking something as huge as caring for another human being, while simultaneously learning on the job. Needless to say, she will want to take advantage of any and all professional opinions made available to her. The fear that she should know better (or, worse, that she's bothering someone) stays her hand, though, and causes her to live with the stress of the unknown rather than call and get a conclusive answer.
Assure a new mom that she isn't being a bother making frequent "it's probably nothing" calls to her pediatrician. Having someone in her corner validating her feelings can be tremendously important for her and her baby.
"Your Baby's Cries Aren't Personal"
It's something most moms probably "know" but haven't really internalized. And, hey, who can blame them? When this little person screams in your face every single day in spite of your best efforts it's hard not to take it personally. It can stir up feelings of guilt, helplessness, resentment, and sadness. But having someone externalize what you "know," that this isn't anything abnormal and doesn't represent any kind of failure on your behalf, can be reassuring. It can be just the thing to keep you going another few days without losing your mind.
"Do You Want To Talk?"
Being a new mom can be extremely lonely, not to mention frustrating, difficult, and not at all what one was expecting. Just like new moms need to hear that some weird thing their baby is doing is normal, it's important to know that their feelings are normal, too. New motherhood is often painted with an overly rosy brush: even the bad side of things can be depicted as sort of funny. But any new mom can tell you that there are moments that aren't even a little bit funny (at least not until later on). Giving her the opportunity to talk about those not funny moments is crucial.
"You Have So Many Good Options"
Very often new moms will feel pressure to parent their baby one particular way, based on something they read, something they were told, or unspoken societal pressure to be "the ideal mom." Of course, there is no "ideal mom," and what's best varies from person to person. While you don't want to say anything to undermine a new mom's stated goals ("You don't have to breastfeed and it's OK to give the baby formula," for example), it can be helpful to assure her that she's making choices that exist within a spectrum of great choices and that if one isn't working out she has a retinue of other options to help her find out her best version of motherhood.
Your Complete Lack Of Judgement
Because no one has time for it. Not one damn person.
"Your Baby Is Adorable"
We all want to be assured our babies are the cutest babies anyone has ever seen. So lay it on thick. Fawn just a little bit. It doesn't hurt you any and it warms a new mom's heart.
Very Little Unsolicited Advice
Do you have a diaper cream that worked out really well for you? A great tip that always helped your infant fall asleep? A good lactation cookie recipe? Go ahead and share. But let's always frame this as, "This is something I found helpful" and, again, free from judgement or the expectation that it's what the new mom should be doing
"You Have To Catch This New Netflix Show"
New moms are trapped under a baby for such a long time for so long and watching TV is pretty much all they are going they are going to be able to do, so may as well provide them with some fun recommendations.
"You're Doing Great"
In fact, this isn't just new moms, but pretty much all moms need to hear this from time to time. There's a lot of noise out there which, in combination with the stress of parenthood, can lead to senseless self-doubt. Give the new mom in you life a pick-me-up by assuring her of everything she's doing right.
Your Honest Experiences (Especially If You're Also A Mom)
I firmly believe that there is tremendous power in women talking to other women. Connecting honestly about our challenges, how we overcome our challenges, and how all that makes us feel can be invaluable to someone else who is struggling or finds herself on the verge of a struggle. It can be uncomfortable or painful to let the mask of "everything is fine and always has been" fall, but forsaking the illusion of perfection to empower other women is a habit we should all get into. I promise, given enough time, it will come back to you.