In times past, extended families lived closer together and communities were tighter-knit providing villages of built-in postpartum support. Women who had just given birth would stay indoors for 40 days to rest, regain her strength, and bond with her baby while family members and women in the community would support her. These days, the postpartum period is not viewed as a sacred time and new mothers in this country are often pressured or expected to bounce right back from childbirth which can impede healing and increase the risk of postpartum depression.
The below suggestions are meant to help and support new mamas and families who have just experienced a very physical and emotional life-changing event.
- Schedule visits in advance instead of dropping by unannounced in case there are other visitors, mama and baby are nursing, napping, etc.
- During the first few weeks, front porch meal drop-offs and shorter visits are best when families are tired, bonding with baby, adjusting and may not be up to hosting company. Longer visits are better in the later weeks and months when long-term helpers have left, other visitors have stopped coming, and partners have gone back to work. This is when many mamas feel isolated and lonely.
- If mama is feeling tired or needs some privacy, it may be difficult for her to ask you to leave. Follow her cues and be mindful of her needs.
- If you are under the weather (even the tail end of a cold or if you suspect a scratchy throat or sniffle), postpone your visit until you are certain you are 100% well.
- Babies and new mamas have heightened senses of smell. It’s best to avoid wearing perfume, scented body lotions, cologne or aftershave.
- Remove your shoes and wash your hands when you arrive.
- Leave pets and children at home unless you’re bringing children over for a playdate or outing with the family’s older children (outside or away from the family’s house) which you plan to supervise.
- This can be difficult, but remember that the purpose of the visit is for you to help and support the family. Do not expect or ask to hold the baby. Wait for mama to offer and don’t take it personally if she does not.
- Greet any siblings with an enthusiastic hello before doting on the new baby.
- Offer to do a chore if you are comfortable with the idea. You can load or unload the dishwasher, wash the dishes in the sink, wipe down a counter top, sweep the floor, fold laundry, take out the trash, take the dogs for a walk, etc.
- Give advice only if the parents specifically ask for it. If you are a generation older, understand that parenting philosophies and techniques have likely changed since you last cared for babies. Never judge or criticize their choices.
- If the family has a baby in the NICU, they also need support. Congratulate them on the birth of their new baby. Ask them how they and the baby are doing, give gift cards to restaurants near the hospital, gas cards or a care package of healthy snacks and drinks being mindful of dietary allergies and/or preferences. If they are staying near the hospital or away from home, offer to pick up mail, water plants, care for pets or bring needed items to the hospital.
- Ask whether the family has set up an online meal-delivery calendar, such as Take Them A Meal or Meal Train. If they haven’t, organizing one is is a great job for a close friend or family member. Check the family’s Meal Train page (or check with the family) for information about food preferences, sensitivities, and allergies, as well as any other preferences such as food delivery times, locations, dates. Put food in disposable containers or thrift store dishes and attach a note to the meal specifying that the dish does not need to be returned.
- Family members and friends who live far away can help by hiring the services of a postpartum doula, house cleaner, diaper service, grocery delivery service, etc. Letting the family know that you are a friendly, supportive ear and that they can call, text or email is also a tremendous help!
- Encourage the parents. Tell them that they are doing a wonderful job and that you are proud of them.