Oh, how exciting! You’ve just received the late-night text message or early morning phone call announcing the birth of your newest niece, nephew, grandchild, godchild, or good friend’s tiny bundle of joy. No doubt the first question on your lips will be, “When can I visit?” But before you make a beeline for the florist’s or the local baby boutique, take a few minutes to think about what the new parents really want and need from their nearest and dearest at this special – but stressful – time. Here are 10 practical and honest tips for visitors, friends, and relatives to help give new parents a good experience in the early days of parenting, and to secure your spot as the most thoughtful, supportive visitor of all! (No jokes — newbie mums and dads will be thrilled if you follow these guidelines.)
10 things new parents and breastfeeding mums really want
1. Never wake the baby. Newborns sleep. A lot. You may find it frustrating that your precious little niece is always zonked out when you’re around, because you want to get a look at her eye colour, hear her cute baby gurgles, and feel those tiny fists grasping your fingers. But one of the most irritating things a new parents hears is the words, “When is she going or wake up?” or “Surely she’s had enough sleep by now!” Resist the urge to poke or prod a newborn when her mother isn’t looking, and if she’s comfortably asleep in her bassinette, for heaven’s sake, leave her alone!
2. Always take food. New parents and breastfeeding mums are usually exhausted, wild-eyed, slightly panicked, and stumbling through the days in a sleep-deprived fog. The last thing on their minds is cooking a nutritious meal. Create a simple, nutritious meal at home, pack it in an easy-to-heat container (like a disposable foil oven tray or an inexpensive microwaveable dish), and call or text message to let them know you’ll be dropping off a meal at dinnertime. Then do just that – knock softly, hand over the food, tell them you don’t need the container back, and skedaddle. A handy tip: Write the reheating instructions on the lid or foil cover in permanent marker, along with how long it will last in the fridge or freezer.
3. Never comment on the state of the house. New parenthood is fraught with responsibilities, and quite often the housework is one of the first things to slide when you’re up all night with a newborn baby, breastfeeding, doing endless amounts of laundry, and somehow learning what this little creature needs to survive. Don’t even think about commenting on how messy their house is. If you’re a really good friend, you can offer to help tidy up while the new mother looks after the baby. Or consider treating them to a gift certificate for a local cleaning company to come over and do a one-off houseclean. But be careful how you present this gift – you don’t want to come across disapproving or condescending. If you’re a parent yourself, you can say something like, “I remember when my baby was born and I never seemed to find the time to tidy up! I hope this eases things a little for you.”
4. Always offer to run errands and help out. If you’re on your way over for a scheduled visit, call beforehand and ask if the new parents need anything picked up from the supermarket. Mention that you’re stopping at the local fruit and vegetable shop or bakery and ask what their favourite fruit is. Ask if there are any treats they might like. New mothers often find that chocolate is off the menu when they start breastfeeding (because of the high caffeine content), so check whether they’d like some fresh fruit or baked goods instead.
5. Never outstay your welcome. Don’t expect to turn up on the doorstep and stay for hours, unless you’ve been specifically asked to do so! Limit your visits to no more than half-an-hour during the first few weeks, and never turn up unannounced. Always check to make sure it’s an appropriate time to visit, and if the new parents seem stressed out when you arrive, offer to return at a more convenient time – and don’t take it personally if the new parents are distracted or unattentive to you, or if a new breastfeeding mum needs to feed her baby and doesn’t feel comfortable feeding in front of you just yet.
6. Always listen and ask questions. Let the new parents lead the conversational direction! If they want to talk endlessly about the birth, the way they spend their days, or how many soiled diapers their new baby creates in a 24-hour period… Let them. New parenthood can be monotonous in the extreme, but also incredibly daunting, and many new mothers and fathers need to talk about what’s going on just to get it out of their systems and normalize what’s going on. Conversely, if all they want is the latest gossip from work, by all means tell them – but make sure they are the center of conversational attention, not you.
7. Never offer unsolicited advice. The new parents are doing the very best they can, and unless you see something obviously dangerous to their health or the health of their newborn baby, bite your tongue. This is not the time to offer your opinion on breastfeeding versus formula-feeding, vaccinations, sleep routines, or any other topic that new parents are struggling with. If you are asked for your opinion, give it gently, and remember that the new mother or father might just be looking for some words to reinforce their own practices. They are learning, too, so give them a break.
8. Always wash your hands and ask before holding the baby. It’s common sense and good manners to wash your hands before holding a newborn, so just do it. No need to ask about the hand-washing – the new parent will be silently grateful you took the initiative. Also, never grab for the baby, especially if he or she is crying. Always ask if you can have a “quick cuddle” and if the new parent hesitates, take the hint. Over the next several months you’ll have oodles of opportunities to hold the growing little one, but in the first few weeks, many new parents like to keep their baby close while they learn to trust themselves. Once they trust that their baby won’t “break”, they’ll feel more comfortable about others holding him or her.
9. Never expect to be offered refreshments. If you want a cup of tea or a cold drink, get it yourself, and make sure to offer the new mother and father a drink as well. And don’t go away grumbling that the cookies you brought didn’t get opened.
10. Always compliment the new parents. Of course you’re there to see the baby, but remember the new parents need support and praise at this vulnerable time! Boost their confidence by commenting on how well they are doing and how healthy their baby is. Tell them you’re proud of them and you think they’re doing an amazing job.
Do you have some tips to add? Share them in our comments, or visit us on Facebook and tell us what you think new parents really want!
While you’re here, check out Breastmates’ great range of baby gear, perfect for new-baby gifts.
This gorgeous image courtesy of Sharon at Bloom Photography (bloomphotography.co.nz)