The birth of a baby can be a really wonderful event for a family or community of friends. And, for a lot of people, supporting a new mom can be pleasure. But there are some things that aren't actually helping new moms, even when they're done with the best of intentions.
This misunderstanding definitely doesn't come from a place of malice. And, in a lot of cases, what someone decides to do in an effort to help a new mom isn't really all that bad of an idea. It's just that, well, if you're not living in the "newborn world," it can be difficult to know what the specific needs of that specific person are. And, of course, every new parent (and new baby) is different and will have different needs.
Here's the big secret to making sure you're helping a mom in the way she wants and needs to be helped: focus on her, not the baby. The mom is the baby's spokesperson, so she'll let you know if the baby needs something. It's understandable that a lot of people would focus on child care (snuggling newborns is a pretty amazing thing to do, I won't lie) but the biggest help you can provide a new mom is often letting her focus on her baby and her recovery.
More often than not, the best way to help is to do the non-baby-related stuff so that she can do it herself without worrying about making dinner or cleaning the litter box. Trust me, in a few years she'll be firing her kids over to you via catapult for a night out, but for now she has to get the hang of being a mom to her little nugget. In the meantime, remember to always communicate with her (this may seem obvious but, trust me: lots of people miss this one) and avoid the following:
Hold The Baby
Unless it's "hold the baby while mom takes a nap" or "hold the baby while mom takes a shower" or "hold the baby because mom specifically asked you to hold the baby because she's touched out," simply holding the baby isn't especially useful, to be honest. It's not that we don't want you to hold the baby, or that it can't momentarily be a reprieve for a mom who has been holding the baby all day. But chances are holding the baby is actually in and of itself generally nice, it's just that it precludes other stuff getting done. Offer to do the other stuff first. Then sit and enjoy holding the baby.
Offering To Babysit
That's very kind, but realistically speaking most moms either can't or don't want to be apart from their baby for too long in this first few weeks or months postpartum. Maybe she'll take you up on the offer to babysit while she goes out for an hour or so to get a pedicure, and leaving the baby so she can snag a quick cup of coffee or something might be nice, but there's a good chance she's not going to take you up on a whole evening out any time soon.
Keep up that can-do spirit once the kid is a toddler, though!
Dropping By Unannounced
My God no. The last thing a new mom needs is the doorbell ringing after she finally got the baby to sleep and was about to get some shut-eye herself. And I doubt she'd be too keen on visitors if she's mid-sitz bath. I think it's quite useful to offer to come over (in a no pressure way, of course) but to just take it upon yourself is presumptuous.
Coming To Stay Without Asking First
This is a famous move pulled by mothers and mother-in-laws. Now offering to come stay with a new mom in the postpartum days it is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be amazing to have an extra set of hands for chores and cooking and taking care of the little one in the middle of the night. Lots of new moms don't know how they would have managed without someone there to help out. But other new moms have horror stories about their mother-in-law setting up shop in their guest room without asking, and then "helping" by "holding the baby' while poor postpartum mom plays host to a house guest when she should be resting.
Make sure your version of help is welcome and, if it's not, don't take it personally. Different moms need different things and that's OK.
Talking About How Easy Your Baby Was
Oh, really?! Your baby slept through the night the first night home from the hospital? Amazing! Oh, were they a "good baby"? Great. How wonderful for you. No colic? You could take them anywhere and they'd just sleep? Wow. Must be nice.
Not helping, Karen.
Advice From 1974
Giving the advice in and of itself bad. And I have to admit that when it comes to raising another human being, a lot of the basic rules don't really change.
But we're always learning new things about newborns and once you're out of the infant game you miss a lot of those updates and developments. As time goes on, best practices change — sleeping on the belly was once considered the safest route, but now "back to sleep" has deceased sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths. Or things that were once seen as OK, like adding rice cereal to an infant's bottle, are now discouraged.
If it turns out that one of your go-to parenting strategies is no longer encouraged, just accept that rather than argue. No one is saying parents didn't do whatever it is you're advocating 29 years ago, but we're going to do things differently now.
Coming Over With Your Kids
If the new mom has an older child who hasn't been able to get out much, and a play date would help them and mom, who doesn't have to have her attention divided between an older kid and an infant, than having your kids tag along could be extremely helpful.
But if you're going to be trying to wrangle your germ-covered preschooler around her too-young-to-be-vaccinated baby, who is almost certainly likely to get into something in her (possibly as yet un-childproofed) home, it might be less than ideal, no matter how much she might love you and your child. Just ask first, is all I'm saying.
Monday Morning Quarterbacking Her Birth
"Oh, you had an episiotomy? You know what you should have done? Nightly perineal massages."
"You had an emergency Caesarean? You probably should have labored for longer. Doctors trick you into those so they can make their tee time, you know."
"Traumatic birth? Poor thing. Next time don't get the epidural so you can be cured by endorphins."
No. No, no, no, no, no. Chances are you weren't there, don't know her situation, and you're pulling talking points out of thin air. And even if you're completely right, an "I told you so" is neither helpful nor kind.
Cooking But Not Cleaning
This is sort of huge because it happens so often. Look, we appreciate the favor — all moms need to eat and, too often, we don't have the time or energy to prepare our own meals. But it's not really a favor if you cook us dinner and leave us with a sink full of dishes to wash. That's a big part of why we don't cook on our own. If you're going to do something that creates a mess, please, please clean the mess.
Inviting Her Anywhere & Expecting Her To Show
Helpful: "I'm having a cocktail party at my apartment next Friday. I know you're still busy on maternity leave, so no pressure at all, but if you feel like you need to get out both you and your baby are more than welcome for however long you'd like to stay. We'll have a quiet place for you to feed them, change them, and put them down to nap!"
Unhelpful: "I'm having a cocktail party at my apartment next Friday. You haven't said yes to my last three invitations so you have to come, ha! Leave the baby home, though. No offense, but it's not a baby friendly party. Besides, you need a night out!"
I understand where that might sound helpful, but mom and newborn are generally a package deal. It's nice to know that you're still trying to include her in your social life, but it's not helpful if it's a source of pressure.
Inviting Her To The Gym
Let her ask you. Lots of women are sensitive about "getting their bodies back" after birth and someone suggesting an aerobics class might be taken the wrong way, regardless of intent. Also, she may well not be cleared for exercise yet, which may be a source of annoyance for her.
Offer Generic Help
It's sweet to offer support, yes, but more often than not new moms don't really know what kind of support they need. It can be overwhelming to even know where to begin, and it can be difficult to reach out and ask for help. So instead of just saying you're there to help, let them know that you're available to do specific tasks. For example, say you can throw in a few loads of laundry, clean their kitchen or bathroom, go snag a few groceries off their grocery list, or stay with the baby while they sleep or take a shower. Tell them you can make them dinner, do their dishes, or just listen to their birth story, especially if it was difficult and they still need to process what all went down.
It's great that you want to help, but be specific about the ways in which you can help. That takes all the pressure, and the emotional labor, off that new mom, who just needs to rest.