I was the first person among my friends to have a baby, so when my son was born, everyone was really excited. As soon as they heard he’d popped out, they wanted to come over, hug me, cuddle him, and silently judge if he was actually cute or if I had told them over the phone he was because I was blinded by all those new mom hormones. (I wasn’t. He was devastatingly beautiful, ask anyone.) And because they’re all completely amazing, they immediately threw out offers to help me in any way they could.
As a new mom, you are sometimes at a loss when it comes to telling people what you need. For starters, this generosity comes at you fast and furious, often when you’re still in the hospital where the nurses do everything for you and you haven’t had a chance to figure out what life with this new little person is like. So when you say “nothing” or “I don’t know,” people do what they think will help you out, even if what they think is helpful might actually wind up being way more stressful.
Obviously you never want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but sometimes you’d rather someone not bring you the gift horse in the first place, ya know? It’s like, “Ummm… it’s very nice that you want to give me this horse, but I live in a fifth floor walk-up and I don’t think the horse will even fit up here. And, if we’re being perfectly honest, I think this is a sanitation issue because that horse does not appear to be housebroken… except that he is obviously going to break everything in my house.” That may be carrying the horse metaphor a bit too far, but you get the gist.
“So wait!” you, eager friend of the newly-babied, say, “I don’t want to wind up doing more harm than good! I want to help my friend. What can I do to help her out during this exciting and difficult time?”
Well, I’m so glad you asked!
This is extremely hard to do when you have a new baby. For starters, to prepare your own food means you will have had to go to the store to buy the food, which may be even harder than cooking. If you are so inclined, bring something to eat with you when you go over to visit. The best foods are dishes that provide more than one serving and/or can be easily frozen. (Personal note: If you’re going to cook, clean up as well. I had one well-intentioned, good-hearted soul make a very big dinner and left me to clean up the substantial mess. I’m pretty sure I cried, because hormones.)
Helpfulness level: “You’re a lifesaver!”
Difficulty level: Varies depending on what you bring over and how much you like cooking or spending money.
I say this in complete love for my two beautiful and delicate little angels, but babies are literal sh*t-shows. You wouldn’t think that a tiny creature who can’t move or do anything at all would generate so much mess, but they really, really do. The laundry piles up quickly. As soon as you’re done with everything, you have to start over again. Little by little, this wears away at your soul. This is especially difficult for moms who have had c-sections. Even if they have their own washer or dryer (or laundry in their building), lifting the baskets, walking up and down the stairs, lots of bending and squatting can be downright painful and a hinderance to their recovery. If you can, offer to wash, dry, and fold some laundry for your friend.
Helpfulness level: “You are an angel.”
Difficulty level: Not so much difficult as annoying, but if you coincide this with a visit it’s not so bad.
Like laundry, dishes have a tendency to pile up. As with laundry, a mom who's had a c-section may have particular issues reaching and bending to put things away. (This isn’t to say that a mom who didn’t have a c-section isn’t still a bit… sore in the following days and weeks after giving birth. This favor is not dependent on birthing method.) Also, if the baby is bottle-fed, those suckers need to be hand-washed. (Pro-tip: They all say they’re dishwasher safe, but this is a lie. I had to replace a whole bunch of really grody bottles after running them through the dishwasher.)
Helpfulness level: “Oh my God, let me hug you.”
Difficulty level: Less hard if your friend has a dishwasher, but still kind of annoying. It’ll still take less time than the laundry, though!
To a new mom, a 30-minute pedicure can feel like a week-long trip to an exclusive European spa. No matter how she has given birth, her body has been through an ordeal, and she likely hasn’t had to time to just focus on feeling good and relaxing. So ask her if she would like you to arrange to come over during a time her wee one is sleeping (they sleep a lot) so she can go to her neighborhood nail salon for a little nail prettification.
Helpfulness level: “You are the wind beneath my wings.”
Difficulty level: Not at all difficult, actually, if the kid is sleeping. Bring a book. If the kid wakes up, you might run into a little bit of difficulty, but even in that instance there’s a pretty good chance you’ll just get to cuddle a cute baby for a while, and ain’t nobody sad about that.
This is a perfect storm of new moms not having the time to get out of the house, not necessarily having the easiest time lifting, reaching, and carrying heavy things, and the added issue of babies having minimal immunities, so they’re not supposed to be out in the more crowded corners of the world too soon. Getting to a grocery-store can wind up looking like the Lord of the Rings trilogy starring your new mom friend as Frodo and her precious as The Precious. Go on and be her Samwise!
Helpfulness Level: “Do you have to be dead to be considered for sainthood? Because you’re basically a saint now and I want everyone to know it.”
Difficulty Level: Certainly up there, but 100% more appreciated than it is difficult.
When you’re a mom with a stroller, love is truly an open door. It is really difficult to manage both, especially at first, when you’re still kind of learning the nuances of maneuvering your stroller. So this goes for anyone, not just your friends: If you see a mom with a stroller, hold a door for her!
Helpfulness Level: “Oh, aren’t you a peach!”
Difficulty Level: Not only is this incredibly easy, it’s just polite.
Even the most dedicated pet owner cannot pay as much attention to her beloved pets once kids roll around. On top of that, a new baby is an adjustment for any family pet. (My cat hissed at my son as soon as we brought him home. He tolerates him now.) So if you are of the animal-loving persuasion (and who doesn’t love puppies and kitties? Heartless monsters, that’s who… and also people with allergies… and my grandfather, who is not a monster…) ask your friend if she would like you to take her dog for a walk or bring a new ribbon toy over to distract her cat.
Helpfulness level: “Truly you are a friend to all God’s creatures!”
Difficulty level: Depends on the pet!
Have you ever read The Yellow Wallpaper? OK, you and I are not GChatting right now, and you can’t answer me, so I’ll summarize it for you: In it, a woman is confined (at the patronizingly benevolent insistence of her husband) to recover in an isolated room after the birth of their child. With nothing to mentally stimulate her other than the pattern of the yellow wallpaper in the room, she begins to descend into madness. Sometimes recovery from childbirth is like that. Many women go from being socially and intellectually stimulated out in the wide world, sometimes in jobs that challenge and fulfill them, to basically being housebound for days, weeks, or months at a time with only their newborn for company and little time to devote to the hobbies that keep their brains going (reading, writing, art, fresh air, adult human contact, etc.).
And when I say “intellectually stimulate your friend” I don’t necessarily mean, like, “expounding upon the more esoteric theories of dark matter.” I mean something as simple as having a conversation about something other than your kid that piques your interest. As amazing and captivating as newborns can be, I’ve yet to meet one who can have a conversation or discuss last week’s episode of Game of Thrones. Your friend might appreciate it if you had a full conversation about something completely not baby related. Be willing to go there with her.
Helpfulness Level: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaat laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaast!”
Difficulty Level: Really damn easy.
Never underestimate just how much pregnancy, birth, and a new child can affect a person. Some women, even women who are tremendously in love with their children and are elated to be mothers, can be overwhelmed by it all (not to mention the metric ton of new-mom hormones coursing through her body are also playing a part). A lot of women suffer this overwhelmed feeling in silence, terrified of the judgement they feel they would receive for appearing even a little unhappy or scared or frustrated. Assure your friend that the space between the two of you is a judgment-free zone. Let her vent, let her cry. Be a safe space for her.
Helpfulness Level: Without a doubt the most helpful thing you can do for her.
Difficulty Level: If you’re a good friend, should be as easy as breathing. (JK, crying makes everyone uncomfortable. It’s OK. Do it anyway. It’ll be over soon.)