A doula’s advice: the dos and don’ts of visiting friends after they have a baby

Guest post by Hunny
1 (35)

I’m the kind of person who starts foaming at the mouth when a friend goes into labor. I start counting the potential hours until I get to meet that new baby and hug that new mom. I also have personal experience with having a new baby, and being the overwhelmed new mom being bombarded with “Can we come over and visit?!?!?” before I have even left the hospital.

I know how exciting new babies are. I know how much people want to see and smell them when they are brand new. I also know that being a good friend to new parents means taking the utmost care with a new and very delicate situation. As a postpartum doula, I’m here to tell you how you can be a good friend while you visit new babies and their parents. If you want to be extra kind to new parents, consider these dos and don’ts, but as with all advice on the internet: you know your situation and your community best — these are just suggestions.

Wait for an invitation

In the weeks before birth, let mom and dad know that you would love to help when the baby comes, and not to hesitate to call. Then: wait for the call. A Facebook wall post or text is an appropriate way to let them know you’re available, but don’t expect a quick response, and don’t be butthurt if you don’t get one at all. They are likely overwhelmed and exhausted.

When you get that invite, stick to it

When they say “Wednesday at 2pm,” be there. Don’t make a new mom wait for you when she could be taking a rare moment to sleep or shower. Don’t be late and risk interrupting baby sleep. When you get there, either text to say you are there or knock ever so gently — don’t rap, don’t ring the bell. If you wake that baby, you’ll feel awful.

DON’T RING IT! By: darwin BellCC BY 2.0

Before you come over, be clean and prepared

No sniffles, no diarrhea last night, no cigarette smoke on your clothes or hair. Call the parents or email them to ask if there is anything you can pick up for them at the store on your way over, or any food they would like.

When you have a newborn in your arms 24-7 it’s nearly impossible to eat, let alone cook, so food gifts are king. Food in disposable casserole dishes is rad — new parents are not going to get around to washing and returning your Pyrex dish. And for goodness sake, if you cook them a meal in their home, do the fucking dishes.

When you get there, do something

Wash the dishes, wipe down the bathroom, fold baby laundry, empty the fridge of old food and take out the garbage. This is seriously the best thing you can do for new parents. If you need to, pack damp paper towels with cleanser sprayed on in a Ziploc in your purse/bag before you come over. When you use the restroom, just give it a wipe down on the down-low. Just do these things — the parents will likely say no if you ask them if they want you to. Not because they don’t want you to but because they’re trying to be polite.

By: Katie TegtmeyerCC BY 2.0

Be calm, quiet, and patient

I know you want to scoop that baby up and smell it. Here is the bad news: you might not get to hold the new baby on your first or second visit. New moms often don’t want to let anyone hold the new baby, or baby simply won’t tolerate it. But if you are a good guest, you will get other opportunities. Let mom know you would love to hold baby, but don’t push the issue.

If mom WANTS to tell you her birth story, listen

Offer to write it down for her, even. But don’t pry if she doesn’t want to, and don’t offer your own (if you have one) unless she asks. If it was traumatic or unplanned things happened, this is especially true.

Don’t bring young kids

They can’t be expected to be quiet and keep to themselves. Wait until the baby is older.


Seriously, don’t stay long. Thirty minutes tops unless mom asks for more. Make up some sort of thing you have to go to, and let yourself out. In fact, if mom is really tired, don’t stay at all, just drop off the food and go.

Don’t give advice unless asked

I can’t say this enough. When you do give that advice, tread lightly.

As with all things offbeat, not every suggestion will be a good fit for every situation. Feel free to take the advice that feels like a right for you, and disregard that which doesn’t.

Comments on A doula’s advice: the dos and don’ts of visiting friends after they have a baby

  1. As a new mom, I think I did myself in with trying to be polite… asking for help has never been my strong suit, and I would absolutely convince people to not help me when they visited even though I needed it.

    • I’m so nervous when it comes to this! I am due August 12th and I am HORRIBLE with asking for help from people- I’m even bad at it now, when I can’t lift things. I just leave it there and start crying, all because I don’t want to “bother” people for their assistance.

      • OMG I am the same way, Ive finally decided to accept help when people offer, and even though its hard and i feel guilty i eventually feel better afterward.

    • I actually made a list before Tavi was born: “Things we might need help with.” I posted it on the fridge for visitors who asked if they could help. It was like … walk the dog, take out the trash, load the dishwasher. Little stuff I knew I’d forget in the moment if someone asked.

      • Great article and I like this idea in particular! In “Purple Leaves, Red Cherries” we suggested making a Helping Box and putting it by the front door with some help notes inside. There were some hold-the-baby help tips though, for example: Make me a cup of tea and then hold the baby while I drink it!

      • We were suggested this approach during our pre-natal class, even little things like “Wash a tea cup or two” that someone can do while the kettle boils is two less tea cups for you to wash later.
        I certainly don’t expect anyone to be my maid but if a friend who asks “Can I do anything to help?” can be told there is a note on the fridge they can peek at if they’d like, then they can choose to help as little or much as they like!

    • I have this problem, too. As a wedding gift, my mom hired one of her cousins to clean our house for like 6 months (best gift ever!). I already plan to hire her back for at least 6 weeks before and after the birth. That way, when I am seriously disturbed by friends’ and family members’ attempts to scrub our bathroom, I have a legit excuse to ask them to stop.

      It’s not cheap, but it’s not that expensive either. For me, it will totally be worth it, especially considering the state of my home after two months of nausea.

  2. this would have totally been great if I had it when my daughter was born. We had a certain someone come over for a good 2 hours and do nothing at our place. She would just sit there wanting to hold our baby and make small talk. They were family so we would feel bad about asking them to leave. If I had this article, I would have totally printed it out and put on my fridge. Also, Ariel, I love the “list of to do things”.

    • Oh, those people. It’s like, ok, I totally would like to just strip down and take a shower, or I need to take off my shirt to breast feed now. And I had some horrible post partum depressions, so sometimes I would just excuse myself and cry in the bathroom.

  3. I have no doubt that this list is accurate and honest to the experience of new parents.

    But I can’t be the only childfree person who read it and thought, “fuck it, I’ll wait for the Christening.”

    • Yep: the first few weeks are pretty intense and overwhelming for new parents. If dealing with frazzled brand-new parents doesn’t appeal to you, delaying the first visit is a great option regardless of whether you’re childfree.

    • Totally. I mean, with other major life events I wouldn’t want friends to barge in immediately afterwards and expect to be hosted. For instance if I’m moving, I’d ask a couple close friends to help, and expect the rest to stay clear til the dust has settled. If someone came over immediately and sat in the midst of my boxes expecting to be entertained, I’d think they were pretty rude. Don’t see why a new baby should be any different.

    • I was grateful for my friends (child free and not) who had more of a “We’ll see the baby later” attitude…there is so much pressure from everyone else, I appreciated the people who weren’t on my case!

      • I’m so glad to hear this! I have a friend who just had a baby, and although she and her husband are great people, I’m fine with waiting until they decide to emerge from their “babymoon” before seeing the little one.

    • I’ve been on both sides of this and I can say, I would much rather wait a few weeks to visit a new baby because by then, the mom and baby have had a chance to become a little familiar with each other and it won’t feel so frazzled.

      I know that’s how I felt anyway. When I had my kids, after about 6 or so weeks I felt more “in place” with the new baby and felt more up to having visitors. It’s not to say everyone should refrain from coming over before then, but for a more “interactive” visit, a little later is better.

    • As a recent new mom, I loved everyone who waited for the Christening. Between the sleep deprivation and trying to get a proper latch and just settling in with a whole new person, even the helpful visitors sometimes overwhelmed me. By the time my baby was 10 weeks old, I was way better at being myself again!

    • It totally depends on the parents, though. My husband and I LOVED having visitors come by. It helped keep our sanity and feel connected when we couldn’t muster the energy to leave the house. The only way to know is to ask!

  4. I agree with a lot of what is in this article, but Do Something? Meh. I want my friends to come visit me and my baby, not come and be my maid. It’s nice if someone offers, but no one should feel like they have to help out just to come visit a friend.

  5. A great idea is to do a “food stork” googledoc group for new parents. Everyone who wants to make a meal and drop it off to new baby gives their email at the baby shower. When the baby is born a friend (who collected those emails) sends the announcement that baby has now come and new parents would like food left starting whichever day until whatever day. Food drop off times are scheduled for 30 minute periods. You bring food, in containers you leave or get the next person to pick up for you, do the dishes from the previous night and get the hell out of there. Everyone gets a glimpse of the baby, new mom and dad get free food and can pace the visits as they please. No phone calls beforehand, no awkward “too long” visits as the time has already been blocked off. Worked great for my friends and then everyone felt like the contributed without burderning the new parents.

  6. PS- The above also give the parents a way to say “don’t call/email us everyday because you want to know if the baby is born” or call us the next day with congrats because that is exhausting. Our friend will email you and let you know, and let you sign up for a time to see baby.

  7. great advice, couldn’t agree more!

    We had some great advice from our nurse/doula as well (in the Netherlands you have a maternity nurse in your home to take care of you and the baby for about 8 days after the delivery): let people cook for you!
    We asked people to bring groceries and make dinner and everybody loved it! We could spend time with the baby while our guests were in the kitchen and had lovely and healthy meals, to share with our friends.

  8. I don’t know, I would feel like a horrible housekeeper if someone came to visit and did my dishes or took out my trash. Maybe I’m weird…Food gifts, though. Yes.

    • You know, I always felt this way, too, until I was suddenly attached at the nipple to a tiny, sleep-free person. Then I was like “hey friends, wanna wash a dish?”

  9. Oh my lord, you have just made me aware of how pushy-cleany my mom will be when I have my baby. As it is, she comes over to fold my clothes (which I hate — I can never find anything!) and cleans my kitchen. There should be an alt post to this one about ways to politely kick a person out (or just stop them from cleaning).

    • I banned my family (they live 800 miles away, and would have expected to stay with us) from visiting for the first month after the baby was born. Sounds brutal, I know, but I really wanted to protect my space and give us time to get used to the idea, if not really the reality, of being parents.

      • My family is coming in from outta town for the new babies birth and I couldn’t be more hacked off! No one offered to get a hotel! I have to arrange food and beds for 6 people! Not to mention my 3 year old gets kicked out of her bed. Wish I would have spoke up! now I get to come home to a house full!

        • Call this madness off NOW! You still have time! The most amazing moment after my child was born was when the last relative finally left my house and I was free to get to know my baby. And I only had 4 houseguests (parents & in-laws) who were nothing but helpful. I will never allow that again. Your family has to at least get accommodations other than your house, or they are being just plain intrusive. They probably have no idea and might just need a friendly reminder (or not so friendly) that it is best for the baby and your new family that they stay somewhere else or even better, hold off on the visit until you have had a few weeks (or months) to adjust to breastfeeding, healing, sleeping, etc.

  10. Love this! The only thing that I would disagree on is “wait for an invitation” — we basically said, “we are too tired to think about inviting you. If you want to come, text or call and ask. If it’s a good time we’ll say yes, if not we’ll say no. But we aren’t going to call around scheduling everyone’s visits.”
    It worked well- we were very honest about when we could see people and when we needed to rest, and no one could be offended if they weren’t invited over (in large families, this is key!)

    • I totally agree with not waiting for an invitation. We did the same thing.

      Having people bring ready-to eat food (without us asking) was a great help.

    • I agree with this. We felt weird calling people to say “hey, wanna come meet my baby?”.

      I’m also not sure (for me anyway) that the short visits thing. Some people stayed for really short visits, and we would clean the apartment and have snacks ready…then they’d only stay for a short time and we’d feel a bit bummed. But maybe that’s just me – while I had a pretty traumatic birth, I was anxious to see people and spend time with them, but some people might just want their alone time.

  11. Huh, I always wondered why none of our friends called and asked to come over and meet the new baby. I guess they were being polite and waiting for us to invite them. Oops.

  12. Also, DON’T bring a friend or two or three, even if they are mom’s friend or acquaintance too. My sister in law brought two mutual friends to see me in the hospital after I’d had a c-section and horrible recovery, and it just was not OK. Although normally I would have liked to see them, I was not in any condition to socialize.

    • My sister-in-law did this too! And then complained later that she didn’t get to hold the baby long enough because her friends held it while they visited. Next time around…I’m drawing some boundaries and worrying about me, my babies and my husband and not about making sure everyone else gets time with the newborn.

  13. I’m not sure that all new moms would take kindly to household help. I mean sure, if I’m doing the dishes I’m not gonna complain if you help me dry, but if my friend just stopped by and started doing my laundry for instance, I’d be kind of embarrassed, and would feel the need to be like, “Oh, here let me do that!” when truthfully I would’ve been happy to let the dirty clothes collect until all my drawers are empty… Also, I have a certain way I like to clean different things. Like, if my good knives go anywhere near the dish washer, I get twitchy. I know it’s the thought that counts, and people really want to help during this crazy time, but when it comes to cleaning – you hold the kid while I take care of the cleaning!

    • I was totally the opposite…I was waaay more freaked out by people holding the new baby then having them clean up my stuff…and I’m picky about that! Sure, a lot of crap got put in the wrong drawers, some clothes were inappropriately washed but me caring about that went out the window when
      I was completely bitch-slapped by childbirth and new parenthood.

  14. Oh dear, I’m all for being polite and helpful guest and love to bring anyone food gifts, especially new parents, but this list makes it seem like we should worship and serve at the feet of our friends for having managed to reproduce. You had a baby, which was your choice, if you want I’ll bring you some gifts and coo but don’t expect me to automatically do your dishes and empty the bin. P.S. I did notice that lots of you would agree that you don’t want your friends to be maids, which is reassuring…

    • Karen, I think the issue is that this list is less of a “New parents, demand your friends do these things!!” and more of a “Dear friends, if you want to be extra kind to new parents, consider these suggestions.” I’m not sure how this becomes you feeling like anyone “expects” you to “automatically” do anything. As with all things offbeat, not every suggestion will be a good fit for every reader. It’s cool.

      As for me, when I visit my friends with a newborn, I ask them if there’s anything I can do while I’m there. If they’re like “omg, yes: could you help me switch the laundry while I nurse?,” I do it as a sweet favor — just as I sometimes feed my neighbor’s cat or pick someone up at the airport. I do these things not because anyone demanded or expected it, but because it felt right for me to offer — and they chose to accept. No expectations. No demands. Just friends supporting friends.

      Only you know what will work best for you and your friends.

    • Ok, I had never heard of a meal train for new parents before, but I woke up to an email from a stranger today that “invited” me to make a meal, that met certain dietary preferences for a couple that is using a surrogate and hadn’t even told me that they were expecting a child–in fact, they had told other acquantainces of mine but wanted those people to not share their news.

      In addition, they said that they might not want to see people who drop off food; so, they’d leave a cooler on their porch for deliveries.

      If I don’t want to cook, I’m welcome to order from their favorite Indian restaurant, and they shared their favorite dishes from there, too. Also, I would be helping if I offered to do their laundry and dishes or walked their dog when dropping off the food.

      I’m obviously not close enough to these people–in fact I’ve never met one of the couple–to be told that they’re expecting a child, but yet they’d appreciate me doing their laundry. It’s appalling.

      I’m single and don’t have kids of my own, but if you really need dinners made and maid services from March 27 through June 30, I don’t think either of you are ready to be fathers.

  15. If someone opened my fridge and started cleaning it out, I’d be like wtf?! 🙂 I also would take it as an insult if someone came over and cleaned my bathroom. But, I am a type-A control freak. When my mom came to visit when my son was tiny I let her hold him while I cleaned. It actually felt great to be able to accomplish things like laundry and let someone else hold the baby for a while! For me, the best visitors would bring food and care for the baby so I could have a break. Everyone is different, I guess. But I don’t expect guests to do any housework…new baby or not, they are still guests.

    • I did this too. I handed that baby off and started lugging laundry around. It made me feel “normal” and like I was productive and could be used for something other than nursing and snuggling.

  16. It also bears mentioning ( and I dont know why I didnt put this in the original post) that moms who have had C-sections may WANT to take out their own trash and stuff, but just plain cant.

    • 100% agree there…I never wanted or expected my friends to be maids, but I was so so very happy when they offered to do that stuff for me when I could barely bend to load/unload the dishwasher (not to mention being banned from lifting more than 10lbs). My hubs works 2 jobs and went back 1 week postpartum, so my helping friends were my super heroes. And I have absolutely no problem doing the same for them someday when they have babies…or get the flu…or whenever they need a hand!

  17. For those who feel a bit like “it was their choice to have the baby/I shouldn’t be their maid” thing, I have an alternate way to think about it. Consider if a friend had surgery that made it incredibly hard for them to do all the things they’d normally do like cook and clean, and then think of how tired the recovery would make them. In my experience, it’s a pretty similar situation minus the squirming little one demanding her attention at all times.

    It’s not about kowtowing to the almighty New Parents but rather extending a helping hand if you want to–but only if you want to and in ways you’re comfortable with! There are other ways to show your support as well…and there’s nothing wrong with waiting until the new parents are out of the “holy shit this is intense” stage and are more comfortable with taking their baby out of the house.

    Here’s some more things you might be able to do for them once the baby is a bit older that doesn’t involve a lick of cleaning, etc:

    ~Once they’re ready for it, accompany them on a short walk around their neighborhood

    ~Once they’re ready to go to the market, offer to go with them to help get things

    ~Offer to watch the baby while they grab a shower or a short walk by themselves so they can get out of the house alone for even 10 minutes

    I’m sure there are more, but I just wanted to point out that there are many ways to support new parents without doing anything you don’t want to do 🙂

    • The parallel, though, would be elective surgery.

      Would I help a close friend around the house after her boob job? Sure, because I love her and I support her doing whatever makes her life better. But any expectation that “I did this thing that I wanted to do and now I am entitled to your help” is bullshit. Same with babies. And I’ll admit that by the 4th procedure I’m gonna be a little taxed on offering up free labor.

      (I don’t think the original impost implied entitlement, but I’ll admit it was a little overwhelming. I would have to be very close to someone before I came over and started cleaning. Bringing over a pizza, sure.)

      I’ve lost friends to the parenting black hole. We brought food and gifts, we did favors, we visited them and never the other way around… and still, they were an endless void of expectation and entitlement who made absolutely no effort to maintain the friendship on their end (including, like, sending a text once in awhile.) So, okay, bye then.

  18. Another suggestion for dropping off food – make a couple of big batches of something and freeze it in appropriate sized portions in disposable/give-away containers. Then you can drop it off to them and they can stash it in their freezer for the time (about 2-3 weeks in) where the visitors start to drop away but the parents are still pretty overwhelmed and exhausted.

  19. I would just add one more thing: pace yourself. Assuming that most people are in the standard one-parent stays home for at least a couple months while the other parent stays home for only a week or two, that stay at home parent gets lonely after a couple of weeks. After all, the baby isn’t “new” anymore, so grandparents have gone home, the phone calls have stopped coming, and partner has returned to “normal life.” But (normally) mom’s whole life has been thrown for a loop, and a little human interaction and/or help is really welcomed for quite a while. I just remember being so so so isolated weeks 2-12 when I was exhausted, trying to cope, and physically recovering from birth.

  20. I actually had a harder time with the scheduled visits than the drop-ins. For the scheduled visits, I was often exhausted, because I had stayed awake when I should have napped because I didn’t want to miss anyone. I missed some drop-in visits, which kind of bummed me out, but at least I got some sleep.

    For people dropping by, we left a note on the door that essentially said, please come in, don’t knock cause we don’t want the dog to wake the baby, and we’re really tired so don’t stay too long. But we really want to see you.

  21. I think the hardest thing about being a momma was realizing that I had to put myself, my baby, my husband, our well-being and needs before any of our extended family. We have family that is very close to us and both my husband and I come from families with strong maternal influences who were both very used to us being available whenever they wanted. And I knew that by doing claiming my right as Momma In Charge, I was going to step on some toes because I had to drawn boundaries and say no to very eager grandparent visits. But at the end of the day…I’m the only advocate for my daughter and I have to make sure that I’m doing what is best for her and sometimes that meant closing our door to all visitors.

    And now…four months out, it has gotten a lot easier because I know my daughter, I know myself as a mother and I know what is best for my family and if other people can’t accept our boundaries that is very sad for them.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation