by BETHANY GODWIN
Many of us at some point in our lives have known a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker that has had a baby. If you are close to the mother, you may have a better idea of how to support her postpartum, or you may be feeling clueless. We all know the images from TV shows and movies of friends and family flocking to the home to ooh and ahh over the baby, toting adorable baby outfits and hearty casseroles. However, there are so many other greatly needed ways to support during that vulnerable and tender time period.
Care for the Mom, Not Just the Baby
It happens so often, and we don’t even realize it. The mother spends many months experiencing all types of changes, giving time and energy into the needs of the baby before they are even born. The eager anticipation of the baby leaves many friends and family members anxious to see the baby and the adorableness of this “new to the world” little human being. The mother often receives attention and support prior to essentially running the marathon of her life, the birth and when the baby is born, the attention and support tends to immediately shift to the baby. This can often leave the mother feeling not cared for, forgotten and can impact her recovery. Here are five ways you can support the mom while also squeezing in some excitement for the adorable life that has just entered the world.
Ask the mother how she is doing first.
Yes, it is very easy to get carried away with our curious minds about the baby that we may have anticipated for a while, showing our interest in the mother first though helps remind her she is a person too and in need of care. Acknowledge everything she has gone through already and is going through now. The hardest work isn’t over when the baby is born, there is physical healing following the birth as well as adjusting to this new role or new family dynamic. The mother is often giving all her energy to caring for the baby and is likely to have some unmet needs herself.
It’s important to check in either with the mother herself or the spouse, partner, support person to see if it would be ok to stop by, and if they have any concerns about visitors or requests. Given the concerns over the last three years and currently, there is a heightened awareness in parents that might have them concerned about visitors with their newborn. If they are comfortable with visitors, ask if there is a time of day that would be better for them. It’s also helpful to keep visits short. Following the birth, parents often tire easily and may not have as much energy as they had before the baby to socialize. It’s also important that, when visiting, the new parents do not need to feel pressure to entertain or care for the visitors as they normally would. This can put extra stress on already taxed parents.
Offer support for unspoken needs.
Yes, we all want to hold the baby and make a fuss over their little toes and coos; it’s very tempting for sure. Newly postpartum mothers can often not be aware of their needs or feel unable to ask for their needs to be met when caring for a newborn. The mother may be very hungry, thirsty or in need of a nap. Offer the mother a few tasks you are comfortable assisting with to see which sounds best for her. If she is without a drink or a snack at the moment, offer to bring one to her. If she mentions having not slept in a while, offer to watch the baby while she closes her eyes and check in with her if there’s anything she would like you to do while caring for the baby. Every mother is different and might have different levels of comfort with what tasks you can help with.
Arrive with items in hand.
Bonus, if you ask Mom before you arrive if they need you to pick up anything from a store, a diaper run might be helpful or a particular formula might be needed. Food is often very appreciated during the early postpartum days. It doesn’t have to be a perfectly cooked family sized casserole, bringing small snack items can also be helpful for that quick grab and go moment of nourishment. Smaller serving amounts can be great to help reduce eating the same leftovers five days in a row. Check with any specific cravings or requests.
Offer help with supporting tasks.
If the new parents have other children, there is a high likelihood that spending time with the other children or tending to their needs will be greatly appreciated. Parenting is hard work, and especially hard when your energy is low and you’re likely sleep deprived. Older siblings may be having a difficult time adjusting to the new baby. Spending quality time with the older children can be very supportive to new parents; it doesn’t have to be a big outing planned, showing interest in the other child and playing with them at home can make a big difference. There may also be help appreciated if the new parents have pets that require attention or care. Taking the dog for a walk, giving the animals their food or just some extra attention can also help reduce the extra load on the parent’s plate during the postpartum period.
The postpartum experience can be many things for many parents; one person cannot tend to all the needs. The saying “it takes a village” is so true during this time period, as a supporter of the newly postpartum mother, you can make a huge difference in their experience. These tips are to provide you with a few things to keep in mind when showing up and providing support. There are many ways to help a mother feel seen and heard following the birth. This is a unique time in a woman’s life, and it can be life changing for her to receive care and support.