When I had my first child four and a half years ago, I was the first of my close friends to become a mother. I’d incorrectly assumed caring for a newborn would be really easy and intuitive. I’d started babysitting when I was 11, I had a degree in education, and I was a teacher. I could handle BIG kids who actually DID stuff…how difficult could a tiny lump of a person be? I figured when the baby was born, life would pretty much carry on as usual, except I’d be toting around a cute little lovable newborn over whom everyone could “oooooo!” and “ahhhhh!”
Then I found myself pacing the floor at 3 am, my husband rocking our screaming, colicky, 4 day old son, and me sobbing over a breast pump trying to figure out nursing, swaddling, sleep, diapers, and how I’d ever be able to leave my house again.
I suddenly realized…I NEEDED HELP. Fast. But it’s tough to know what you need help with as a new mom. What I didn’t need was someone to swoop in and tell me what to do. There are a million ways to care for a baby, and new parents need to figure it out for themselves. Plus, I felt like if I kept handing off my son to others, I’d never learn how to be a mom myself. I also didn’t need single and/or childless friends to invite me to “get out of the house and do something fun for a change!”, at least not this early on (I did, however, need that later on!). I needed help, but I didn’t know what to ask for.
Here is the sort of help I needed when I became a new mom. Perhaps you’re pregnant and not sure what to do with offers of help, or perhaps a friend is expecting and you want to know what you can do for her. Here’s what I really would have loved, and often got from close friends and family, that was actually very helpful.
How to Help a New Mom
1. Keep her company. Being home with a newborn is isolating. Having people come over and just sit on the couch to keep me company– not coming over expecting to be entertained and fed– was really helpful.
2. Help with the laundry. My firstborn was colicky partly due to some reflux, i.e., he spit up every single time he ate. I was constantly doing laundry and never managed to fold it all. There were always clothes everywhere. Having help organizing the clean clothes made me feel less overwhelmed.
3. Bring a pizza over if you want to grab dinner with her. I was extremely anxious about leaving my newborn home with anyone, plus I was nursing on-demand in the early days, so it was really, really hard to leave my son home at all. A dinner in with a friend was nice.
4. Don’t ask “do you need anything?” because the answer will probably be “no…I’m just fine!” even though I’m not. I had a hard time saying things like “I really need milk and eggs and I’m terrified to leave my house!!!!!” even though that’s what I was probably thinking. “I’m stopping at the store for you. What do you want me to grab?” was a huge help. Don’t worry- your new mom friend will gladly pay you back!
5. When I complain about how the baby isn’t sleeping/pooping/eating/whatever, just listen. Unless your new mom friend specifically asks for advice about something, just listen when she needs to vent about how tired or stressed she is. You don’t need to problem solve for her.
6. If you DO actually know what you’re doing with newborns, AND if your new mom friend specifically asks “How can I get him to sleep/latch properly/bathe him?” make sure you don’t give “my-way-or-the-highway” advice. There are a million ways to raise kids. What worked like a charm for you might not work for another family. It’s great to offer your experiences if asked, but remember that just because your newborn calmed down when swaddled tightly doesn’t mean hers will, and it doesn’t mean she’s doing something “wrong”, just that she needs to try something else.
7. Give her an “I won’t be offended” grace period. After birth, I was stressed, sleep deprived, and coming down off a huge hormone crash. I wasn’t always nice. I snapped when I shouldn’t have. I know this now. Try to keep this in mind if your new mom friend isn’t as perky and understanding as she usually is, and let it go for the first few weeks. Instead of getting offended, take it as a sign that she really needs your friendship right now, and help her out!