I know that I am not unique in publishing a post similar to this, but I find this topic to be very important. If you are an expectant mama you really need to think about your boundaries before baby arrives, and make sure that those boundaries are respected. If you are a friend or family member hoping to go visit a brand new baby, please make sure to communicate and be respectful of the families wishes. Don’t take it personally if they want the visit to be short or to wait a few more days. Eventually you will get to see that precioius baby.
1) Visits should be short. If you are visiting in the hospital then they should probably be kept to about a half hour. This is probably not what you want to hear if you are driving far to go visit your sister and new niece. If you want a longer visit, you should probably wait until baby is at home. Everyone is tired, there are constant interruptions, and the best thing for baby is constant skin to skin with mama. It really isn’t the ideal time or place for guests. If you are not close enough to feel comfortable seeing mama half naked without flinching, then do not visit in the hospital at all.
At home you can have a litle more leeway, but still try to keep it to an hour at the most. Of course follow the family’s lead on this one. If they invite you for a meal or if you are there to help with housework, then by all means stay.
2) Visitors should be helpful. In the hospital this could mean stopping at the store to pick up something that mama forgot, or refilling her empty glass of ice water. At home it might mean washing a few dishes, running the vaccuum, or taking the dog outside. The new mom’s job is to bond with baby and recover. That is it. Housework will get put on the back burner. I do not recommend asking what she wants you to do, because she will likely respond with “nothing.” No woman wants to ask for help with her housework. However, if you say, “do you mind if I wash these dishes?” then she will likely be happy for the help.
3) Visit with the mama. This is very important. Some people just want to come see the new baby. You are there primarily to see the mom. Please do not ask to hold the baby. As I said before, mama is trying to bond with the baby right now, and she may not like him being passed around like a hot potato. If she asks you to hold the baby then go for it! She may welcome a chance to get up and use the bathroom or make herself some tea. You have to follow her lead on this. Talk to her about the birth and ask about her recovery. Ask if she has heard about an interesting news story (most likley she has not). Make her feel like she is the reason that you are there. I really feel like this is important. It is really demoralizing having visitors that talk to the baby more than they do to you.
4) Bring food. In the hospital mom and dad might appreciate something that doesn’t come from a hospital cafeteria. Even a good cup of coffee or candy bar could be just the thing that they need. At home food is even more important. Stop by with lunch already made. Bring a casserole to be cooked later. Bring cupcakes. Even stopping to pick up a pizza will be appreciated. You may even want to pick up something that mama was avoiding during pregnancy like a bottle of wine or sushi. Mama is worrying about feeding her baby so it is really nice to have someone making sure that she eats. It may be a good idea to ask her ahead of time if a particular item will be good. Some nursing mamas still have diet restrictions. Some babies refuse to nurse if mama eats things that are spicy or have a lot of garlic. Other babies are sensitive to caffeine or dairy. Just like helping with housework, it is best to be diplomatic. You could say “I was making this casserole for dinner and realized I had enough to make two” or, “since I am coming at noon do you mind if I stop and grab us some subs?” Trust me she will appreciate it.
5) Tread lightly when it comes to other kids. I really don’t recommend bringing other kids to visit a first time mom, especially for an extended visit. Many new moms do not like the idea of other kids touching her brand new baby. Just think about all of those germs that they have likely picked up at the playground or daycare. If you do bring other kids make sure that they are entertained and that they are not making a mess. As much as you might want that cute picture of your adorable toddler holding the new baby, please do not ask. If the mama offers then help make this happen as safely and quickly as possible. If you are uncomfortable with your children seeing the new mama nurse or if they will make her uncomfortable then leave as soon as the baby starts huger cues. Most children will not be phased by breastfeeding, but if this is an issue then maybe they shouldn’t be there.
If you are visiting a mom that has older children, then by all means bring your child to entertain the older sibling. In fact, you may want to let the mom have some quiet time with her new baby while you take all of the older kids outside to play. An older sibling that is locked inside all day without anyone to play with is more likely to resent the new baby.
6) Please give the older sibling attention. Listen to his account of the birth or ask him what he did while his mom was in the hospital. Please do not ignore these older siblings or just talk to them about how cute their baby brother is. Praise them for being a good big brother and shower them with love. If possible get them out of the house. Take them to a park or to the zoo. Mom will be so appreciative.
7) Gifts are nice but not necessary. This may be different for different situations, but for the most part new parents are pretty prepared by the time baby gets here. Do not bring a brand new outfit and expect them to have baby go home in it. They most likely have already picked out and washed the special outfit. Flowers and balloons may cheer up a hospital room, but when the new family heads home in 24 hours they will have to fit these things in a car with a newborn and all of their bags. Some very thoughtful gift ideas include a framed picture of that first photo they sent you, a storybook that you personalized, and of course food. There are exceptions to every rule. A blue sleeper for a family that thought they were having a girl or preemie clothes (washed) for a family that finds themselves with a five pound newborn. Just don’t expect a thank you card in the mail next week.
I feel like I could go on, but these really are probably the most important pieces of advice I could share. Just be respectful, follow her lead, and be appreciative. You are lucky that she loves you enough to share this special time with you. If mama needs more time, then just send your love by phone, text, or Facebook. Some mamas just need a little more personal space than others and that is not meant to be a personal affront to you. The first couple of weeks are extremely important for the new family, and we are blessed to play even the smallest part in it.