Your friend just gave birth—and it’s a pretty big deal. She just brought a human into this world. She’s tired, healing, and emotional. She’s overcome by the significance of this moment while also questioning if she’ll be this tired for the next 18 years.
It’s a lot to handle, and being the good friend you are, you’re probably wondering: What’s a good way to offer support but also give her and her baby some space? or How can I be helpful without being in the way?
There is definitely a delicate line to walk here, and a boundary you don’t want to overstep. But the last thing you want to do is avoid her altogether just because you’re not sure how to help. Here’s how to navigate this delicate situation.
What To Do
Ask if she’s OK with having visitors.
If it’s a “no,” she’s not ready to expose the baby to other people. Respect her boundaries. There could be many reasons behind that decision, such as wanting time to bond with her new family, cultural reasons like la cuarentena, the Latin tradition of quarantining mother and newborn for 40 days after baby is born, or perhaps baby is immunocompromised in some capacity, or she’s just avoiding germs. Maybe Mom is simply too tired and overwhelmed to host visitors and she just wants her privacy. Whatever the reason, you can still support her from a distance.
If she agrees, schedule a short visit.
Give her at least a day’s notice and arrive and leave on schedule. Some babies nurse as often as every 30 minutes (or more if cluster-feeding) and, trust me, she doesn’t want to have to either whip out her boob in front of you or excuse herself to the other room, not knowing how long the nursing session will take. If she knows you’re only planning to be there for a short while, she doesn’t have to worry about this.
Ask if she or anyone in her household has any allergies or food restrictions before bringing food.
Some people advise always bringing food, but it’s important to know if anyone in the house has allergies, dietary restrictions, or even food aversions first, just in case. Even better, ask if there is something specific the family would like from the outside world. And when in doubt, a gift card for a food delivery service like Uber Eats or DoorDash is always appreciated.
Wash your hands before you ask to touch the baby.
No one wants to have to ask a grown adult to wash their hands. Just do it. And don’t simply use sanitizer instead, as both babies and new moms are extra sensitive to smells. This should be done at all times, but especially as we go into cold and flu season and cases of pediatric respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are on the rise.
While you’re there, ask leading questions about her needs.
If you ask, “How can I help?” she might be so overwhelmed with things, or she may not want to impose upon you, that she’ll say, “Nothing, I’m fine,” or “Thanks, but I don’t need anything,” even though you both know she really does. Instead, ask direct questions like, “Can I empty the trash for you?” or “Do you have enough to eat?” or “Do you want me to watch the baby for you so you can shower?” or “Can I walk the dog for you?” If you’re comfortable enough in your friend’s home, you may want to just proactively begin loading the dishwasher or pushing her toward the shower while you’re already holding the baby.
Offer to babysit if she has older children.
Take them to the movies, restaurant, museum, or park for a while so she can nap with her newborn. Also consider bringing some mess-free and noise-free entertainment for older kids that will make them feel special⏤and give Mom a needed break⏤like a new game, puzzles, or coloring supplies.
Listen to her.
Let her talk or vent about whatever she wants, but do so without prying. Does she want to tell you about every hour of her birth? Then you will nod, be supportive, and try not to grimace at the details. Is she not feeling very talkative? That’s fine, too. Let her take the lead.
After visiting, you can continue to support her from a distance.
You can start a meal train, where a group of friends help deliver food to the family, or rally those same friends to donate to a delivery app of choice. (Be sure to ask her which one works best for her.) You can buy some outstanding items from her baby registry or a gift certificate for a drop-in housekeeper to help with laundry and dishes. You can text her weekly to see if she needs anything. Sometimes just knowing that our friends are there in case we need them is priceless in itself.
What Not To Do:
Don’t stop by unannounced.
You never know what new moms have hanging-out-of-what at any moment in time. She could be breastfeeding while also eating dinner before it gets cold while also bathing her toddler and also icing her vagina with a padsicle. You probably shouldn’t stop by anyone’s home unannounced, especially not a new mom’s.
Don’t bring guests.
I don’t care if they’re your relatives, your spouse, or your own kids⏤every extra person means extra germs, and when Mom said you could come to visit her newborn, that does not include a plus one, let alone a plus your entire family.
Don’t touch the baby without permission.
And don’t even ask permission until you wash your hands, heathens!
Don’t kiss the baby.
This should go without saying. I know that they look very kissable but your mouth has germs. Don’t even ask. Actually, don’t even think about it.
Don’t make assumptions.
Maybe she’s drinking, but maybe she’s choosing not to while she breastfeeds. Maybe she’s choosing not to breastfeed at all, or maybe she can’t. Don’t make assumptions or judgements about her lifestyle choices as a new mom. And no matter the circumstances, unless she’s specifically requested it, don’t swing by with a Costco-sized bottle of tequila.
Don’t comment on her body.
“You look tired” or “Your body will bounce back” are among the worst things to say to a new mom. But even if you think you’re paying her a compliment about how great she looks, or how she’s almost lost all the baby weight, stop yourself. Comments about someone’s appearance after giving birth are off-limits! Actually, don’t comment on anyone’s body, ever.
Don’t offer any unsolicited advice.
“I heard that … ,” or “Have you tried? … ” Just don’t. She has probably read all the books and has already received plenty of unwarranted advice from well-meaning family, friends, co-workers, and strangers in the grocery store. Be the friend she vents to, not one she feels the need to vent about.
Don’t overstay your welcome.
We already touched on this, but it’s important and therefore worth mentioning again. Stick to the amount of time you said you’d be there and see yourself out. You can always make another date to check on your friend and her new baby later.
Being a new mom can be overwhelming. It’s both joyful and exhausting to be responsible for the life of a new, tiny human. And on top of this responsibility, motherhood also brings new challenges of finding your identity as a mother and dealing with the mental and physical changes happening to your body. But, by just being there to help your friend and knowing what to do (and not do) to give her the support she needs, you’ll help her adjust to her new role as Mom.