Having a baby is a life changing experience and will be one of the most daunting yet exciting periods of your life. From the very first time you see those two lines on your pee-stick, hear the heartbeat and see a teensie little body on the scan, your life will never be the same.
All the books you’ve read, friends you’ve spoken to, sister’s journeys you’ve shared in … they will all completely fade away when you have your first baby. This baby is different: it’s YOUR baby. Believe me, you will forget it ALL!
Don’t worry, some of it will come back to you and the rest you’ll pick up as you go. In hospital, and later at home. All you need to worry about is yourself and your newborn. It’s everyone else that needs to fit around you, and stick to the rules. Rules you say? Let’s call them guidelines. Etiquette even.
But yes, there are rules around visiting a new mum.
When to visit?
Only when you’re invited. Harsh? Not really…
It is SO exciting when your friend, colleague, neighbour, cousin, etc has had their first baby and you can’t wait to visit them in hospital and see the baby. But do not assume you’re invited or will be welcome. New mums have gone through one of the most traumatic physical experiences of their life. Whether their delivery was by the book or a more complex affair, childbirth is an extraordinarily emotional and exhausting time and not everyone wants visitors knocking at the door with flowers and ‘It’s A Girl’ balloons.
First of all, a new mum won’t feel like drinking. She will barely feel like getting out of bed she’ll be so sore and tired. So the thought of having to shower, get dressed and put on some make-up for visitors is the last thing new mums feel like doing.
Having a newborn in hospital is a MUCH busier time than I’d realised. There’s a newborn to feed (sometimes every hour or two) and feed, and feed, forms to fill in, food to order and eat, Paediatric Doctors and midwives and Obstetricians to consult with, check-ups, medication, the baby gets checked and re-checked, more food is delivered, water is filled up, tea is delivered, rubbish is collected… it’s a very busy place.
New mums wanting to breastfeed will most likely enlist the expertise of a midwife to help with the latch, the correct position, and so on. Breastfeeding is a brand new experience and doesn’t always work first go, so the mum and her newborn need time and space to practice feeds and get it right before they go home. Doing this in front of a room full of visitors isn’t the most comfortable experience and can cause anxiety for a lot of mums.
Then there is one of the most important things: sleep! Recovery in hospital is crucial for new mums, because in a day or two (or more depending on the hospital) she will be at home. No midwives or doctors there. If she has visitor after visitor there will be little time to rest or sleep before going home, which is SO important.
If you are invited, remember:
Always check the time you’re visiting is OK and stick to that time.
If you’re running late, let them know or make another time. Don’t assume rushing in 30 minutes later will be OK, no matter how cute those baby booties you bought are. It could be feed/sleep/dinner time.
Text the father
The new mum might be busy feeding, talking to Doctors or midwives, having a shower, going to the bathroom or resting. NOT on their phone. And the father will often say ‘no’ or suggest another time when the new mum is too polite to.
Hospital food isn’t very good, and a new mum will most likely be very hungry (recovering from birth, breastfeeding, overtired, etc) so something small that you know the mum will like is always appreciated. Muffins or cookies you’ve baked, a real coffee or homemade banana bread will be most appreciated!
Don’t take flowers
That might sound mean, but while beautiful, fresh flowers smell a lot in the hospital room, which is not good for settling a newborn baby. The smell also detracts from the mother and baby bonding that is helped by familiar smells, not flower scents.
And hospitals are kept very warm, so fresh flowers will droop and die quickly and a new mum won’t be able to change the water and keep them fresh. Plus, they’re just a hassle to take home. New parents have enough to carry and concentrate on (a newborn!) without having to take flowers out of the hospital vase, re-pack them in the car so they don’t fall over… It’s just a nightmare. Save them for home visits.
Once the new mum is at home it’s an extremely nerve-wracking and daunting time. Even if you’ve had a baby before, this is a NEW baby and they’re all quite different. Feeding, sleeping, burping, bathing… everything about this baby the mum needs to learn, and it’s very hands on. The mum might have other children to look after, still be sore after delivery, and so on. Not to mention she will be extremely tired and emotional.
If you’re visiting at home, the same rules apply, but there may be a bit more flexibility with when you can visit, as there’s no hospital visiting hours to stick to.
Here are some handy hints to remember when visiting new parents and baby at home:
Visit in the morning
Newborn babies are generally more settled in the morning. The first weeks and months at home they’re still getting into a feed/sleep/awake time routine, so afternoons and evenings are often unsettled and hectic for the parents.
Home-cooked meals are best because they taste better and are better for you (but new parents won’t be fussy if you turn up with a pizza!) Make a lasagna, a casserole or risotto and you’ll have friends for life, I promise. It goes without saying that you’ll be tempted to buy flowers (don’t buy flowers for the hospital, save them for home visits) and baby gifts, but food that has been thoughtfully made and delivered is appreciated by new parents. They won’t have much time or desire to grocery shop then cook (or even re-heat food!) so something they can eat that night is the best idea.
Long before my children were born I visited some friends who’d just had twins. They were exhausted and cranky, so when I turned up with fish and chips and a bag of hot cross buns they were so happy. Eight years on and they STILL talk about it!
Ask if they need anything
You’d be surprised how many people prepare for the baby’s arrival to the finest detail, but forget about themselves. Trust me, your baby won’t notice their nursery is all set up with cute baby decor when they arrive home, but YOU will suffer if you don’t have milk. Or butter. Or fresh fruit and vegetables. After spending a few days in hospital, ask a new mum if there’s anything she needs or wants before you visit. If you know her well, just take over a bag of fruit, some basic groceries or a loaf of bread from the bakery and a take-away coffee without even asking. She’ll love you for it.
Don’t stay long
This may sound harsh but new parents will be exhausted. Especially a new mum. They’d never ask you to leave, but don’t stay longer than an hour. The baby will need feeding, changing or settling to sleep, the mum needs to rest/look after other children/do washing/cook, or possibly prepare for other guests and relatives to visit. Entertaining guests can be hard work, and draining. They’ll be delighted to see you, but keep it short.
For the new mum – hospital or home visits?
Hospital visits are good because you can often have a lot of people visit at once during visiting hours – tell your labour/birth story to a group and let people have a hold of your baby during the short ‘visiting hours’ timeframe. You don’t have to make them a cup of tea or even get out of bed, so it’s quite convenient. Within an hour or two all your visitors will be gone, you can sleep/rest, feed baby again and recover from birth.
Or, you might want to let your friends know you’d rather see them at home. You’ll be in your own environment, be more comfortable and probably be more at ease. However, people tend to stay longer when they come to your house, you feel more obliged to offer hospitality rather than rest and newborn babies are unpredictable, so you might not have time to catch up properly.
Having a baby is a beautiful, joyous and wonderful experience, so try to enjoy every minute… just try to put mum and baby first!