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

Guest post by Hunny
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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.

Leave

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 recent new mom, I’ve been thinking a lot about the help I had or didn’t have in the first few weeks.

    I had a vaginal delivery with some hefty complications afterward. But three days after I was home, I started trying to “get back to normal life”. This meant that I didn’t accept some of the help that was offered, I tried too hard to do too much around the house, I found myself “entertaining” people who came over to see the baby, even if they brought food and cleaned up after themselves. I should have just let it all go and bonded with my son and not taken visitors at all for the first two weeks. ( That is what would have been right for me… not necessarily for everyone.)

    I find all of these suggestions above to be really helpful for the people coming over and I wish that I had been more capable of accepting the help I was offered when it was offered.

    My friends wouldn’t have cared that the house was a mess, and that extra hour of sleep or time with my son would have been a lot more worth it.

  2. I’ve just had my baby, she’s 2 and a half months premature (placental abruption and emergency c-section under general anaesthetic!) and she’s now 3 weeks old. Just this week, I have cancelled all visitors, because I’m exhausted, I wrote a list today and for the past three weeks I have had back to back visitors with only a day or two off in between!

    My social life has been busier in the past 3 weeks than the entire year and it means I’m trying to fit friends in between visits to the neo-natal intensive care unit at the hospital to see my baby…crazy I know, and I’m still recovering from major abdominal surgery! I think those friends that came to hospital got a shock when they saw me struggling to get out of bed to go to the loo.

    This wasn’t a normal birth, mostly I was/ still am in shock and worried that my baby would even survive on the outside so early, let alone celebrate her arrival. I just didn’t know how to receive messages such as “Congratulations on the early arrival of your daughter” how is that something to congratulate? I wish she was still inside and would grow to a full term, healthy baby!

    I do really appreciate the support and food deliveries and lifts to the hospital (all good stuff) and honestly I didn’t realise I had so many good friends, but all I want now is a long afternoon nap and someone to vacuum my house!

  3. A question on this topic.. What if you are living very close to or with the new parents? I live in the top-floor apartment of my landlords’ home, and they will be having a new baby in a few days. I’m good friends with them (but not incredibly close, and I didn’t know them before I moved into the apartment), and I don’t have a separate entrance so am consistently walking through their home and running into them. I’m sure the same issues apply to friends who live with new parents in communal housing. I want to help some with cleaning and cooking, but I don’t want to set a precedent where I feel constantly obligated to help. I want to offer a few moments of grown-up talking as I come home from work, but I don’t want to interrupt or interrupt mom-baby time or make the new parents feel less like a private family unit. I know that a lot of this depends on the people involved and the specific situation, but has anyone dealt with living with new parents without being close enough to them to be part of a “communal family” situation?

    • OK, I’m not in that situation, but I am a new mom, and this is how I think I’d handle it.

      When you come home, if you actually see them – say hello, chat briefly, and gauge their reaction. Are they hungry for adult conversation? Exhausted? Take your cues and either chat a bit longer or make tracks. Before you go, offer to help if they need it. If they are “being polite,” on another day drop off some food for the freezer or ask if you can help with a specific task.

      Things I wish I could accomplish that the baby makes difficult: eating, showering, replying to e-mails and messages, reading, taking a walk, napping, getting something to drink, cooking, pumping breastmilk. If someone offered to watch the baby for anywhere from zero minutes (and they brought me a fresh glass of water) to an hour (and I could take a nap) that would be the greatest gift of all. Offer that mom the gift of a little free time and she will REALLY appreciate it.

    • We had our first baby when we were living with 3 other guys. It was fantastic and I loved the adult chatter as they were breezing around with their single lives devoid of nappy changes. Maybe occasionally offer to watch the bub while mum has a shower (she will love you for life with this one). If she’s breastfeeding, offer a glass of water before you go upstairs, you can’t move easily and I always got super thirsty so also a beautiful thing (prob also if bottle feeding, not the thirsty thing, the immovable thing). Other than that, just carry on as you are. We were always worried about our crying baby disturbing our flatmates sleep, so when they assured us it didn’t that also made us happy, even if they maybe fibbed about it on occasion.

  4. It’s good to know I’ve been a good guest with my sister in law and brand-new nephew (now 3 weeks old). We even kept our visits in the hospital short-the day he was born we got a peek at the baby in the nursery window then extended our congratulations to the father and quietly left-leaving the grandparents to fuss over the new baby and mom. One additional piece of advice I’d give: If the mother is married or living with her partner, ask the partner if there’s anything that needs to be done/any help needed. He or she will probably be more forthcoming than the new mom, because most women don’t want to dispel the “Supermom” myth. Also, I’d keep calls to the new mom short-10 to 15 minutes max. I’ve called people post baby afterwards, mostly just to see how they’re doing and to let them know I’m thinking of them, but I didn’t get too chatty-I know they’re busy getting to know this new little person.

  5. When the most recent baby in my life was born, I wasn’t super close to the mum and knew they didn’t have a big freezer and their mum was staying a lot at the beginning so for some socially awkward reason I felt weird about taking over a casserole (what if she had too many?) and read that too much heavy food (like what a lot of people cook for new parents) after the birth can lead to constipation etc.
    SO I researched what was good for postpartum bodies – and found out that LOTS of fluids and fruit is good for breastfeeding and recovery. So the first time we visited I took a MASSIVE bag of easy fruit like grapes and pre-cut melon (got mad props for that, as it also gave them something to give guests) and the second time three large nice bottles of soft drink (pear juice etc, not coca cola!)

    Just in case anyone else is as weird as me and worried about taking a meal.

  6. While I understand what is trying to be said here, I think that this is also SUPER cultural. I am Greek-American and my partner was Iranian (he has passed away). When my son was born, we had people (family and friends) everywhere all the time basically. Frankly, I loved it. I didn’t have some of the lonely moments I hear a lot of “American” moms talk about. The idea that your nuclear family is independent and sort of sacrosanct is a cultural one. In some places/cultures, new mom and baby are part of the community from the get go–and often that works. I know it did for me.

    • I think it can be different person to person as well. My sister in law is a social butterfly, and when her baby was 2 weeks old she called us and asked us if we wanted to come over and hang out for half an hour with her new family. I was a bit surprised, knowing she’s a first time mom and getting started with nursing, but realized that she might like to have people to hang out with, so she doesn’t feel so lonely.

  7. I could not agree more with this list.

    A week after having my son, my inlaws (all 7 of them) invited them selves over for an entire week. I was over whelmed to the point of screaming. My house was a bomb, was no where to go to have a moment to think alone, and our cupboards were emptied.
    Never again..

  8. I know everyone is different and I havent been there yet, but if someone brought over wipes in a zip lock bag and wiped my bathroom on the sly I’d think “Shit, is my bathroom not clean enough for you?! I just had a baby! Sheesh” and be a bit offended

  9. This is difficult for me. I certainly would be happy for food but if anyone, other than 1 very, very close friend, went around cleaning my apartment – I’d be livid. And I’m not a Type A personality and my apt isn’t very neat or tidy.

    So I’d tread lightly with the clean the house advice…

  10. “And for goodness sake, if you cook them a meal in their home, do the fucking dishes.”

    Oh gosh, this. We had loads of well meaning grandparents come over to cook us dinner, then mosey out and leave us with a mess of dirty, disgusting pots and pans. It would have been better if they hadn’t cooked at all.

  11. Also unless mom specifically invites you to visit her in the hospital after the birth do NOT show up! If she wants you there she will specifically request it, otherwise don’t even think about it.

  12. I haven’t been a new mother yet, so who knows what I’ll actually think when the time comes but right now I love the idea of people coming and visiting in manageable amounts. As to the cleaning, I have Celiac which means I have to be careful about not getting wheat in my food, there is this thing called cross contamination which means if I wash something covered in wheat with a sponge and then my gluten-free pan then it’s contaminated and has the potential to sicken. At any rate, someone cleaning my kitchen would cause me to panic unless it was one of my few friends I trust to know. Food would cause anxiety because then I have to think about what is in it, if it’s safe and if there is anything the chef isn’t telling me about it’s contents through ignorance or forgetfulness. I have learned how little the average person actually knows what is in the food they eat.

  13. I am in a weird situation right now where I think once I have my baby (in October! eek!) that I don’t think I will have much control over visitors.

    I currently live in The Netherlands but am originally from the UK. We are planning on having our baby in the UK for a variety of reasons which I won’t go into just now, but I will be staying with my parents. I can see all of my extended family wanting to visit ASAP after the baby is born and my parents not thinking twice about restricting them in any way. I feel like I can’t impose my own requests on them either as I will after all be staying in their home.

    Any advice on this one…? :/

  14. I love this list! I do not have kids, but I have many friends who are either pregnant or had a child over the past couple of years and I think this is really good advice for the friends/family members! I know some moms disagree with some of the advice here, but obviously everyone is going to have different preferences about cleaning/vs. not cleaning, length of visits, etc. The most important thing to take away from this post, to me anyways, is: Listen to the new parents and honor their requests when it comes to visiting! When I visited my friend in the hospital she had texted me and told me about the birth afterward. So I just asked her, “Do you want visitors? If you do, when is the best time for me to come? Is there anything you want me to bring you?” If you pay attention to a person’s body language and what they’re saying, you can usually figure out if they really want you to stay and chat for two hours, or if they’re just being polite.

  15. Something I loved is that when my husband’s family found out I was being induced, they came over while we were at the hospital all day and cleaned our house from top to bottom.

    Another thing to realize is that some things are just physically impossible or even scary within the first week or two. My laundry room is in the basement and after an episiotomy and major bleeding, I was petrified to even try the stairs the first couple days (and I was told by the midwife to avoid them).

    One more thing I think is important is not to comment afterwards if anything you thought was ‘strange’ happened while you were visiting. My mom made a few comments that I had made my dad uncomfortable breastfeeding in front of him when they visited 2 days after he was born. I was exhausted, out of my mind, and had no clue what I was doing (it’s hard to get them to latch at all at that point, much less when hiding under a blanket)- modesty didn’t even occur to me. If something bothered you, wait until they do it again when they are awake/sane/normal again to comment.

  16. If you don’t want to see breastfeeding don’t come over!!! Also someone to help with older kids would be important. 1st time moms have been foucused on more in the discusion then 2nd. Ect but who needs the help most? All moms do no matter what round it is.

  17. When I was home with baby the only real thing I wanted was someone to watch baby while I showered. Glad someone else mentioned it!

  18. Love this. We’ve said for months that it’ll be no visitors for at least the first 3 weeks as we’ll need time to settle in and get used to having the baby here, plus the baby needs to get used to us! It’s not been met with anything other than shock. However, interestingly the new mothers I have spoken to have all said that they wished they HAD banned visitors for at least a week. This article will be shared far and wide!

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