Recently quite a few of my friends have either just had a baby or announced new pregnancies. In fact, just this week I became an Aunty again to this sweet baby girl. Isn’t she beautiful? I have loved soaking up all the newborn cuddles.
It got me thinking back to those precious first weeks with Eleanor. Where the days and nights seem to roll into one. You are utterly exhausted but completely smitten. The housework gets left by the wayside and there are times you don’t leave the same spot on the couch for hours. It is a whirlwind time of learning how to care for this new little life you’ve brought into the world.
Since becoming a mother I’ve really come to appreciate the ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ proverb. Particularly if it’s your first time, and even in consecutive pregnancies, you find yourself soaking in every bit of golden mothering advice and encouragement your friends have to give. Not to mention their wonderful practical help after your baby’s birth. There is nothing more comforting than knowing you are supported.
But how do we best help a new mother? What are the things that will really support her during this exciting, but exhausting time? And what might we avoid doing to ensure she feels encouraged in her new role? I’ve penned my thoughts.
Respect her need for privacy – Every new mother would agree that the birth of a baby is a truly special thing. However, not all women’s births are the stress-free experiences they hope for. Birth can be a painful, draining and traumatic time for some mothers. They may need several days or even weeks before they are ready to see people and introduce their new baby. It is important to be respectful and sensitive to each mother’s needs. We all enjoy those newborn cuddles, but our friend’s well-being should come first. In my case, Eleanor’s birth went smoothly but we chose to only invite our direct family to visit at the hospital. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and overwhelmed by all the information I had to soak in as a first time Mum. Trying to hold lots of conversations and entertain others would have been too much for me. Every new mother will react to birth differently. It is important to see how your friend is coping at the time and respect her desire for privacy if she needs it.
Keep in contact – The flood of well wishes and lovely messages you receive on the announcement of a new baby is so comforting. I honestly remember feeling warm and fuzzy for days! But after the first week has passed and you are knee-deep in navigating this new life with a baby, that’s when you really need ongoing support from your fellow mothers. Speaking from personal experience, there is nothing more reassuring than knowing other women are cheering you on and are ready to help the moment you need it. Don’t wait for your friend to send you a text message. Chances are she is sleep deprived and might not have the energy or mental capacity (thanks baby brain!) to keep in touch as regularly or quickly as she used to. She may not need visitors or any practical help at the time, but a word of encouragement or message to see how things are going could make all the difference in her day. My beautiful sister-in-law was this person for me. Almost every day in those first few weeks she would message me to see how I was and if there was anything I needed. Most of the time it was the same response from me, “We’re going great, just tired!”. But it was so nice to know that I had someone to talk with not only about the important baby care questions, but also the monotonous motherhood moments as well. It can be a hard adjustment for women going from working and having a full social calendar, to being at home with a newborn who relies so heavily on you. I know I struggled for the first couple of months with having less adult interaction and independence. Keeping in touch with your friend will help her to still feel connected socially and part of adult life outside the ‘baby bubble’.
If you are visiting, try to arrive on time – This is general courtesy, but even more so when your friend has a newborn baby. In the first few weeks mothers are establishing a rhythm in their day for when feeds, wake time and sleeps are happening. If your friend has other children, she will also be working around their daily activities, like school drop offs and outings. It can be quite the juggling act. Similar to my first point, we need to appreciate that our friend has set aside a part of their day for us to visit and be there at the requested time. If you are going to be late, let her know in advance that you aren’t running on time and might need to re-schedule your visit for another day.
Another thing to remember is that unexpected visits can be a source of stress for new mothers. Having arranged visits means that your friend is not going to be disturbed when they are trying to catch up on sleep, shower or do important tasks around the home. Obviously, some people are more than happy to have their friends pop by as they please. Just be mindful that not everybody is comfortable with spontaneity and checking first is the best way to avoid causing unnecessary angst for a new Mum.
If you are sick, don’t visit – This is an absolute non-negotiable. Even if you might only have a slight cough or runny nose, it is best to wait until you are 100% well before visiting. A newborn baby’s immune system is not able to fight infection like an adults and they can become very sick, very quickly. Being patient for those first newborn cuddles is the best show of love you can give.
Keep visits short and lend a practical hand – Just two final points on visiting a new mother. Try your best to keep your stay short (half an hour to an hour maximum). Also try and help practically in a small way. Stack the dishwasher, hang a load of washing or even do a quick vacuum before you leave. These seemingly small tasks to complete will mean so much to your friend.
Home cooked meals mean the world – Flowers and gifts will always be appreciated on the arrival of a new baby. But if you really want to know the way to your friend’s heart, provide her with a nourishing, home cooked meal. There is nothing (I mean NOTHING) better in those first bleary-eyed days and weeks with a newborn than when your friend turns up at your doorstep with a meal. It is amazing how the simple task of preparing dinner becomes such an overwhelming one when you have a baby. Not having to juggle being in the kitchen while attending to the needs of your newborn is the biggest help. I will never forget the outpouring of love from the women in my mother’s group when Ellie was born. We had a home cooked meal delivered every night for the first 2 weeks of being at home! I know, I have the best friends.
Have a listening ear – Last but not least, have a listening ear. There is nothing quite as life changing as the arrival of a new baby. Your friend will cherish the time she has to debrief with you about her birth and talk about how she is settling in to life as a new mother. If you have had children yourself, remember to be sensitive when comparing your own experiences to your friend’s. For example, she may have an unsettled baby who isn’t sleeping particularly well (that was me!) and hearing how your baby slept for hours on end might leave her feeling quite discouraged. We want to focus on our friend’s journey and ensure she is continually reminded of the wonderful job she is doing as a mother.
These are just a few of the ways you can help support a new Mum, but ones I found particularly helpful and practical. I would love to hear about what you appreciated most from your friends after birth and how you like to bless a new mother. Please leave a comment below and share your advice. There is nothing quite as powerful as when we mothers join together.