Going to Visit Family or Friends Who Have a New Baby? Follow These Tips!

Baby in Hat

Your friend or family member has a new baby.  You want to visit.  You want to help.  You want to meet that amazing new little person!  Before you go, read this primer on how to be a good visitor to a family with a newborn in the house — the kind of visitor who will make the family feel loved, supported, and forever grateful!

Included are guidelines that apply to all visitors, plus tips specifically for close friends and family, long-term visitors, and friends and family who live far away but would like to help nonetheless. These tips are suggestions and ideas, not demands. Visitors should follow the suggestions with which they and the family are comfortable. And of course, no visitor would be expected to carry out every one of the suggested tasks – there are enough ideas below for a whole community of helpers!

In the United States, we shower attention on families during pregnancy, but not during the postpartum period — when in fact the postpartum period is the time when families need the support of their communities the most!  Be a gentle, considerate visitor who puts the family’s needs first.  Your thoughtfulness will be remembered and appreciated for years to come!

WHEN AND HOW LONG TO VISIT

  • Always call/message in advance to schedule the visit.  Do not drop in unannounced.  Be on time.
  • Front-porch meal drop-offs or short (10-15-minute) visits are good in the first several weeks, when families are overtired and commonly not feeling up to hosting company.
  • Longer visits (30+ minutes) are good in the later weeks/months, when long-term helpers (grandparents, etc.) have left; other visitors have stopped coming; and spouses have gone back to work. Mothers often report feeling isolated after 1-2-3 months at home with a newborn (and any other children), and welcome longer visits in the later weeks/months.
  • Very close friends/family may be invited to come for longer or more frequent visits to help in the early weeks, but should always ask the mother what type of visit — short or long — would be most helpful to her.
  • If the mother will be home alone with the baby most of the time (single parent, spouse deployed or working long hours), she may wish for visitors to stay longer.  Ask.

PREPARING FOR THE VISIT

  • If you are ill in any way — even the tail end of a cold — stay home.  Visit when you are well.
  • Do not wear perfume, scented body lotions, or aftershave.  These linger for hours or days after your visit and are often overpowering for baby and mother, who have heightened senses of smell.
  • Leave your pets at home.
  • Leave your children at home.  This is especially important in the early weeks, when the family is likely to want quiet, rest, and minimal outside germs.  One exception is bringing your children over for a playdate or outing with the family’s older children, outside or away from the family’s house, which you plan to supervise.
  • Bring food.  See “Bringing Food” below.
  • Bring small gifts for any siblings in the house, if you can.  Gifts that do not make noise are best.  Special food treats are a nice, inexpensive option.

DURING THE VISIT

  • Remember that the purpose of the visit is for you to help the family, not for you to spend time with the baby.  Now is the time for you – not the family — to prepare food and clean up any messes made during the visit.
  • Do not expect or ask to hold the baby.  (Yes, this can be difficult — new babies are so snuggle-able!)  Wait for the mother to offer.  Many won’t.  One big exception is offering to hold the baby after a feeding so the mother can take a shower or a nap.
  • Wash your hands when you arrive, and let the mother know that you have washed them before touching her baby.
  • Greet any siblings enthusiastically.  Give a big hello and lots of love to the older children before fussing over the baby — it will make them feel special during a time when the baby is the focus of most adults’ attention.
  • Do a chore, if you are comfortable with the idea and know the family well.  Do it without asking.  Or say, “It would make me so happy if I could [do chore XYZ]. Will you indulge me?” (Saying something like this helps ease discomfort the family might feel about having someone clean for them.)  Load the dishwasher.  Wash the dishes in the sink.  Wipe down a counter.  Sweep the kitchen floor.  Fold that basket of laundry you see sitting there.  Take out the trash.  Excuse yourself to the restroom and scrub the toilet or wipe down the counters.
  • Or, watch the older siblings, or take them out of the house on an outing.
  • Or, offer to take dogs for a walk, if you’re a dog person.  Adjusting to a new baby can be hard for pets, too.  They need a little extra love at this time, as well!
  • Give advice only if the parents specifically ask for it.  Do not criticize.
  • Follow the mother’s cues about how long a visit she’d like. Remember that it can be very difficult for her to ask you to leave once you are there, even if she truly needs privacy to nurse or pump or perform postpartum self-care.
  • If the family has a premature baby in the NICU, they still need support — lots of it!  Tell them “Congratulations!” (they do want their new little one to be acknowledged and celebrated).  Ask them how they and the baby are doing, and then really listen.  Give them gift cards to restaurants near the NICU; gas cards; or a care package of healthy snacks and drinks that do not need refrigeration (dried nuts/fruit/veggies, trail mix, homemade muffins, snack/granola bars, seltzer water, etc.).  If they are staying near the hospital, away from home, offer to pick up mail, water plants, care for siblings or pets, or bring needed things from home to the hospital.

BRINGING FOOD

  • Most families welcome food anytime, but it is often especially welcome at these times: after any other long-term helpers (visiting family, etc.) have left; after the first several weeks when other visitors have stopped bringing food; and when the spouse goes back to work or is away on a business trip.
  • Ask whether the family has set up an online meal-delivery calendar, such as Meal Train or Take Them a Meal.  If they have not, organizing one is is a great job for a close friend or family member (see below).
  • Check the family’s Meal Train page (or check with the family) for information about food preferences, sensitivities, and allergies, as well as any other preferences (food delivery times, locations, dates).  Respect that information.
  • Bonus points: bring a complete meal (main dish, salad/veggie side, and dessert) and/or meals containing ingredients that promote breastmilk production, such as oatmeal (oatmeal lactation cookies are one option), whole grains, dark leafy greens, beans, vegetables, and nuts/seeds.
  • Avoid bringing foods containing large quantities of those herbs which are known to reduce breastmilk production, such as peppermint and sage.
  • If you do not cook, consider bringing a healthy store-bought ready-to-eat meal (such as rotisserie chicken or a complete dinner from the supermarket) or a collection of healthy snacks that the mother can grab and eat one-handed during the day or while nursing, such as nuts or trail mix (unsalted), dried fruit/veggies, healthy snack bars, precut fruits/vegetables, cheese, hummus, and whole-grain crackers. Trader Joe’s and Costco are great places to buy these things inexpensively.
  • Bring the food in disposable containers or in inexpensive reusable Rubbermaid or thrift store dishes that need not be returned.
  • Consider attaching a note to the meal specifying that the dish does not need to be returned and that no thank-you note is necessary.

IF YOU ARE A CLOSE FRIEND OR CLOSE IN-TOWN FAMILY MEMBER

  • Run an errand.  School drop-off, grocery store, Target.  For example, call and say, “I am going to the grocery store. What can I get you? I will drop it by on my way home.” Note that it is “What can I get you?” not “Can I get you anything?”
  • Be the one to organize a group of friends/family to deliver meals in the first three weeks (or longer).  Use an online organizing service like Meal Train or Take Them A Meal.  Be sure to include information about food preferences, sensitivities, and allergies.  If the meal-receiving family is not large, have meals delivered every other day so that the backlog of leftovers does not overwhelm the refrigerator before the family can get to them.  Spread word of the Meal Train throughout the family’s social circle.
  • Help the family write a Chore/Helper List.  This is a list of tasks that other visitors can help with, so that when visitors ask what they can do, the family has immediate answers.  Place it in a prominent place, like the refrigerator.
  • Help the family research the baby/parenting information they need, if they would like.  With a new baby in the house, it can be hard to find time and energy to research lactation consultants, breastfeeding or postpartum support group meeting information, etc. A list of local maternity and parenting resources can be found here.
  • Lend an ear.  Ask the mother how she is feeling, then follow her signals.  Do not pry.  If she wants to talk about her experiences, she will.
  • Observe the mother for signs that she may be developing postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety (at least 1 in 5 new moms in the United States do).  Know the difference between normal new mom stress and a postpartum mood disorder.  Be gentle and compassionate with the mother.  Ask her what kind of support would help her feel better.  If she wants peer or professional assistance, this page has a list of local and national postpartum support organizations.  To better understand what a mother with PPD is experiencing, her friends/family may find it helpful to read Brooke Shields’ memoir, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression.
  • Watch the father for signs of anxiety or depression as well.  Postpartum anxiety and depression occur in fathers, too. Like mothers, fathers need sleep, good nutrition, exercise, and alone time to stay well. This page has a great list of resources both for fathers experiencing postpartum depression themselves, and for partners of women experiencing PPD.  Additionally, Postpartum Men Online Forum is an online community that these men may find helpful.

IF YOU ARE A FAMILY MEMBER VISITING FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD 

  • Come for an extended visit only if the family has invited you to do so.  Never invite yourself.
  • Ask if the family would prefer that you stay in a hotel during your visit.  Be gracious if they say yes.
  • Offer nighttime help.  Offer to stay up late with baby while they catch a few early-evening hours of sleep.  Offer to burp/walk/bounce a fussy baby after a midnight nursing/feeding so that the parents can sleep.  Nighttime is often a time when help is scarce but dearly needed.
  • Be their personal assistant.  Do whatever they indicate they need.  Drive them to appointments or support meetings.  Run errands.  Grocery shop.  Pick up prescriptions.  Babysit siblings.  Cook.  Clean.  Do laundry.  See “During the Visit” above.
  • Encourage them. Tell them that they are doing a wonderful job. Tell them that you are proud of them. Especially for a nursing mother struggling with breastfeeding, the words, “You are doing a great job,” are magical.
  • If you are a generation older, understand that parenting techniques likely have changed since you last cared for babies.  Ask the parents about their parenting philosophies.  Follow any specific baby-care instructions they provide.  Reading (and following) the same baby-care books that the parents are can be helpful.

IF YOU LIVE FAR AWAY BUT WOULD LIKE TO HELP

  • Pay for the services of someone who can help in person: a postpartum doula, a house cleaner, a diaper service, a grocery delivery service.  A list of such local resources is available here.
  • Be part of the family’s virtual support team. Let the mother know that you are a friendly, supportive ear that she can call or Skype at any time, day or night.

IF YOUR SPOUSE OR CHILDREN WANT TO HELP, TOO

As stated above, having a crowd of visitors in the house — or running in and out of the house — can be overwhelming for a family with a new baby.  But having a work crew tackle the work literally piling up outdoors?  Such a help.  If you can bring your own tools (for example, rakes and leaf bags for raking leaves) so you have no need to ask where to find supplies, it’s all the more helpful.

  • Pet care.  Walk the dogs.  Poop-scoop the yard.  Change the litter box or the hamster cage.
  • Yardwork.  Mow the lawn.  Rake the leaves.  Shovel the snow off the driveway and sidewalk.  Snow and leaf blowers can be grating on the nerves — avoid them.
  • Garden work.  Weed.  Pick veggies.  Especially good for parents of babies born during harvest season!

FURTHER READING

This post has been several years in the making.  Sincere gratitude to the many mothers who have contributed, both directly and indirectly, the ideas, suggestions, and wisdom reflected within it!

About these ads

34 thoughts on “Going to Visit Family or Friends Who Have a New Baby? Follow These Tips!

  1. This is so good. I particularly like the suggestion to attach a note to gifts of food saying that the container does not need to be returned and a thank you is not necessary.

  2. Pingback: Friday Linky Love | The Parenting Passageway

  3. This is so great! Just pinned it to share in the future – like in March 2014 when our next one is due. ;)

    Thanks, Alex @ Inspiration Clothesline

  4. I’m such a germaphobe. I’m definitely going to request that visitors DO NOT bring us food, haha. That’s just me personally. This is a great article!

  5. Seriously? How about call to see if anyone is home, drop over with a rattle, hold and or kiss the baby if appropriate, take a selfie with baby and mother and then git. That is called the ‘common sense’ approach. Works like a charm. Nobody gets hurt, sick or offended.

    • Not totally helpful. Quick visit is great, but help is the main point, not selfies with the new baby… I would probably not have been impressed if a good friend had done that.

  6. When bringing food you need to check with allergies and see if the family eats a certain way if you don’t know. There are people out there (like our family) that would not dream of eating America’s Standard Diet after just having a baby and nursing but are uncomfortable explaining this to someone offering to bring food so we have to just decline.

  7. Pingback: Visiting New Families-Article | Rachel Hess: Postpartum Doula

  8. Pingback: Sunday Reading vol. 1 | Life in Pink

  9. Best article I’ve ever read. I wish I could personally mail this out to people a couple weeks before my due date!

    • They’re suggestions, really, based on several years of listening to mothers talk about what they wished their postpartum visitors had or hadn’t done. =)

      • I think the negative feedback is that the general feel of the article is that if you plan to visit someone who just had a baby, then you better only be stopping by if you plan to spend money on them and/or their family or do work. You can throw in a congratulations and “Gee! That’s a cute baby!” if you want… but it better not be the reason you stopped by. A global list like this could end up leaving several postpartem mothers pretty lonely.

        After each of my three kids, I was fortunate to have visitors who had the common sense to be kind and help if they thought of it without me having to post a list of rules and demands on my front door. I also thoroughly enjoyed those who just stopped by to celebrate with us. It never crossed my mind that they they were being rude by not giving my other children gifts or scrubbing my bathroom.

        I know that it’s just a huge list of suggestions. But, if you happen to be wondering where the negative feedback is coming from, I think it might because the article’s tone comes across more as a celebrity rider than a list of suggestions. It’s highly “newbie mommy”. I totally believe new mommies should receive help and extra care… but maybe not expect so much extra help and attention that they find themselves with little to no visitors. People are much more willing to help those who are surprised and grateful for the help and less those who are so demanding.

        • Thank you for sharing your perspective! I do understand where any negative comments are coming from.

          When I wrote the post, the reading audience I expected were visitors-to-be who were actively seeking this information of their own volition — people who wanted to help and were looking for guidance on how best to do that.

          What I did not anticipate was that the post would be shared so frequently by expectant parents with their potential visitors, before the visitors had asked on their own how they might help, and I do understand how under those circumstances, the list can be perceived as a list of demands, and how that may be off-putting.

          When my friends started having babies, I wasn’t sure how best to help, and I really wished for a list of ideas like this!

          For the last three years, I have co-led two birth/mothering groups in my community (these groups include over four hundred women).

          As I’ve been involved with these groups, I’ve taken notes on what mothers and birth professionals who regularly work with postpartum families (midwives, doulas, and leaders of breastfeeding and PPD support groups) showed or told me about what most families truly need in the time after a birth. From those notes, I created this bullet-point list of ideas that I hoped interested visitors could pick and choose from, based on their own comfort and energy levels, and closeness to the family. My intention was never to create a list of demands.

          If I had this article to write over again, I would provide more perspective on the ways that many other cultures (and America, in the past, when extended families lived closer and communities were tighter-knit) provide automatic, ample postpartum support to families, without the families having to ask, and without the families being viewed as demanding or entitled — this Daily Beast article is a overview of that: Why Are America’s Postpartum Practices So Rough on New Mothers?

          I would also reframe the information in a way that would make it less awkward for expectant families to share with their potential visitors, because every family deserves kind, compassionate support after a baby is born! And that is this post’s ultimate purpose: ways of being kind to a family in recovery from a physically and emotionally demanding, life-changing event.

          It is wonderful that you had such “common sense” postpartum support from your friends and family — if only every family were so lucky! All the best to you!

    • Gosh, yes. Nothing is worse than people coming over unannounced, expecting to breathe all over your newborn, staying forever, and leaving your in pain and exhausted wishing that they had never come in the first place. It’s different after the first few weeks, but with a newborn- entertaining others is the last thing you need when you are still bleeding, in pain, exhausted, constantly worried, and trying to figure out how to breastfeed.

  10. Great article!
    Just a suggestion on the gifts for older siblings: Many parents would prefer that guests ask permission before bringing food or toys to older siblings.
    Attention and playtime are generally what older kids crave when a new baby is in the house, anyway.

  11. Pingback: Postpartum Visitors |

  12. Great tips! You bring up some really good points that no one would ever think about (ex. do not expect or ask the mom if you can hold the baby). It’s definitely important to consider what the parents/baby will want over what you want!

  13. You forgot to mention ensuring your vaccinations are up to date, so you don’t pass on anything that can kill the baby. Like measles, whooping cough and so on.

  14. This is great! :) I’d add to “bringing food” though that it’s helpful to ask what the new mom and her family would like- sometimes we get sick of chicken or lasagna every night- and whether there are any food allergies or intolerances, or strong dislikes, in the family- bringing me food is great, but if it’s not safe for my food-allergic children (or my food-allergic self) it’s likely to be thrown out.

  15. These are great tips! I would add not to smoke before visiting a newborn or while there visiting. I am sure that sounds obvious but smokers don’t always realize how it affects others.

  16. This is a great blog post! I will link this on my blog! Thank you for posting this! My wife and I will be having our fourth in December. So much wisdom in this post. Our life is complicated having 2 girls with Type 1 Diabetes and I’m sure people will offer to help and will quickly be busy. Great article. Can’t thank you enough, and that is from a dads perspective.

  17. i have to say that if someone visited me and scrubbed my toilet without mentioning it, i’d probably freak out a little…

  18. This is ridiculous…you’re there to help the family and NOT to see the baby? No wonder so many new parents feel so entitled.

    • What’s interesting is that the idea of providing complete care to a mother with a newborn (relieving her of all household and entertaining duties for weeks after the baby’s birth, so that she can focus on recovery and baby care) is not a new idea from a new generation — it is an old and widespread idea, practiced historically (in America and elsewhere) and even currently in many non-Western cultures. In those cultures, it’s just a routine part of life — and no one is considered entitled or indulgent for participating in it. In the United States, especially in the last century, we’ve slowly and quietly stripped away postpartum support for families. This article may be of interest: Why Are America’s Postpartum Practices So Rough on New Mothers? (The Daily Beast)

      Also, helping the family doesn’t preclude seeing the baby, of course! =) Many mothers are happy to hand over the baby, and many aren’t — the kindest thing for a visitor to do is to follow the family’s cues for what they are most comfortable with, and what would be most helpful to them.

  19. A huge list of rules to visit a baby? Come on. Don’t visit just to see the baby?? This list is laughable. Most of my in laws dropped by randomly when they had the chance. Sure I was exhausted when I came home from the hospital, but I wasn’t some fragile little thing that I couldn’t handle an unexpected visit or two. I think the most important thing to remember is keep the visits brief and good food is much appreciated.

    • We don’t disagree on the importance of keeping the visits brief and the food good in the early weeks! =) As I say in the intro, this isn’t a list of rules — it’s a list of suggestions for ways that visitors can help if they’d like to, and if the family would like them to. Not all suggestions apply to all visitors — hence, the different headings.

      I think it can also be helpful to remember that not every woman’s or family’s postpartum experience is the same — some women and families need a lot of help, others do not. And as the article stresses repeatedly: asking the family what would be most helpful to them, and then respecting that, is the most important thing! =)

  20. I love this. Especially the part about not expecting to hold the baby. I’ve had two pregnancies and each time, after giving birth, I absolutely dreaded having to hand away my newborn…even to the most trusted family members. I felt like it was my time to bond with the baby and do as much holding as possible. I didn’t like it when people came over and felt entitled to holding my baby. This reassures me that what I was feeling was normal.

  21. What a great reminder, thank you! Although most of your ideas sound like common sense, when I was a new Mom, I was shocked how many people have absolutely none! I especially thank you for reminding people NOT to bring their young children. They are exhausting even when you haven’t just given birth! I especially appreciated the offers of taking my older children out of the house for a while; that is when I could snuggle with my newborn and not feel guilty. Again, thank you for your article, it is spot on!

  22. I loved this list of suggestions! While I’m not one of those parents who feels ‘entitled’ to help after the birth of a baby, any help offered is greatly appreciated. As a mom who bleeds a LOT after birth, I’m really wiped out for a little while. And that’s not information that you’re going to share with everyone. Sometimes moms are dealing with complications that no one knows about and you’ll never know how much of a help the littlest thing can be.
    I appreciate you compiling a list of ideas for people to look through – ignore the negative feedback. Not all of us have it all together and we appreciate some pointers.

  23. Comment from Marikay on 1/11/2014: “In your article of things to realize before visiting moms and newborns I have a few suggestions. When a family is dealing with a infant in NICU parking fees at large regional hospitals can add up to thousands of dollars if the baby has a very extended stay. Cash is appreciated. Babysitters for siblings is essential. When it is appropriate family and close friends accompanying the parents to see the baby according to hospital rules is terribly supportive and lets those closest really understand the gravity of the situation and understand what the parents are talking about. Having priests ministers and rabbi etc come to visit with parents is quite comforting. If the parents are overwhelmed trying to keep everyone concerned updated offer to update daily or as the parents need.”

Comments are closed.