As a postpartum doula, I‘m lucky enough to witness my clients’ friends and family meeting a new baby for the first time. It’s a joyful occasion — although sometimes these celebrations can leave the new family and the baby exhausted. The desire to bring loved ones over during this special, early stage is natural, but we need to shift the focus of these occasions from hosting to healing. Here are some tips on how to make this visit truly helpful and memorable in the right way:
- Be on time. There is a good chance that the family has planned their entire day around your visit.
- Text when you are on your way to see if you can grab something small from outside and then text again when you arrive (you don’t want a noisy buzzer to wake anyone up).
- Don’t bring anyone unexpected along. This ranges from your hyper toddler, to the new person you are dating, to your dog. It doesn’t matter how cute you think they are. You want to help create an environment with no surprises, where a birthing person can nurse, cry and wear pajamas without feeling self-conscious.
- Don’t come if you are feeling unwell. Newborn babies are very vulnerable and the last thing new parents need is to get sick. In this instance, the kind thing to do is to cancel.
- Shake off your own junk before you enter the space. Complaints about slow trains or juicy gossip about your boss can wait. Now is the time to be totally focused on this sweet new family, so take a big breath and let your stuff go at the door.
- Wash your hands with soap as soon as you enter the home and take off your shoes.
- Bring food. Did you know that a breastfeeding person needs an extra 500 nutritious calories a day? Food and a safe space to rest are the two most valuable gifts you can give new parents. Try to honor the dietary preferences of the family. If in doubt, think warm, easily digestible, not too spicy, healing food that will keep well in the fridge or freezer.
- Are there older kids in the family? If so pay them some attention or bring them a small gift. This is a period of transition and you will be helping the parents by including their older babies in the celebration.
- Keep it short but sweet. Unless asked to stay longer by the family, assume that your visit will be 30 mins to 1hr. Have somewhere to be so that you don’t outstay your welcome.
- Give compliments! Tell the birthing person they look beautiful, even if they look tired. Understand that they may still look pregnant and that is normal. Actually, withhold all comments on weight. Tell them that you are proud of them because they have done something truly amazing.
- Give more compliments! Tell them their baby is the most gorgeous baby ever, even if it looks like an angry, little red alien. Be kind and curious about the name they have chosen.
- Ask for consent before taking a photo or posting anything on social media.
- This isn’t about you. Hold off on telling stories about your own experiences and opinions on birth, breastfeeding and parenting. If the family asks you for opinions and advice, try to use wording like ‘this is what worked for me….’ remembering that every circumstance and baby is different.
- Don’t ask for a detailed account of their birth story. It will likely be the millionth time they’ve had to tell it, and in addition to being exhausting, it may bring up some complicated feelings they are still working through. If they do elect to tell you about it, listen intently and without judgement
- Ask them what they need. Some people are gonna jump at the chance to take a shower or a nap, whereas others might not feel comfortable letting anyone hold the baby yet. Both ways are great. Do fix them a snack, refill a glass of water and fluff their pillow. If you are good at massages offer them a neck or foot rub.
- Do a small chore. Wash the dishes in the sink, take out the garbage or put on a load of laundry. Leave the space tidier than you found it.
- Normalize their feelings. It is so common for a new parent to feel worried or uncertain, especially if they are sleep deprived. It’s also typical for breastfeeding to be challenging. The best thing you can do is to listen without judgement, tell them their feelings are valid and ask if there is anything you can do to help. If you can gather resources and referrals to help to answer their questions that’s great. If they have expressed that they are feeling anxious or depressed, be sure to check in on them again the next day.
- Be flexible and understanding. There is always the chance that you turn up to the house, fully prepped to be the perfect postpartum house guest, but when you get there everyone is asleep. Please don’t take it personally. Send a text saying that you’ve left the food outside the door, that you love them and that you are glad they’re getting the rest they deserve.