The arrival of a baby is always a cause for celebration - family and friends often want to see the little munchkins pretty much after they've slid out of mama's vagina - or belly - but we mustn't forget that a birth also takes its toll on new mums. Having experienced two births and postpartum periods, I can definitely say that it's wonderful to share your little bundle of joy with the world - but there are also some no-goes I've experienced and heard from other new mums, which aren't great to experience when you've just popped one out.
Babies are a bundle of joy, definitely. However, bear in mind that giving birth is one of the most life-changing events in the life of a woman. Even if everything goes well and you walk away without any injuries (I wonder what that's like), it is a massive undertaking of our bodies and we don't just flip back to how we were before (and, spoiler alert, we never will). From being sore down-under to aching nipples, to baby blues or sheer exhaustion and worry, postpartum holds a lot of fun stuff for new mums. The fact that many visitors expect a vivacious mummy who just dotes on her baby adds additional pressure on many women, who probably haven't showered in a few days, feel sore, are worried the pain will never ease, or worry their child might die during sleep times. It is a wonderful time, but it is equally terrifying.
A friend of mine recently said everyone fusses about birth when they should be fussing about the postpartum period. Birth can be painful, yes, it can be downright traumatic for some women, but at least it's usually over in a matter of hours. Postpartum takes six intense weeks, and, technically, another ten months/one year to get back to a before status - or something reminiscent of that. Postpartum can be pain, sorrow and fear for many women - I know it was for me, especially the first time round. You wonder if your body will ever function properly again, things like going to the toilet can worry you for hours before, and you have to take care of a baby on top of everything. Your pelvic floor is hanging out somewhere and your boobs are massive bulbs with sore tips (read my 5 Tips for a Good Breastfeeding Start here).
So, in this intense time for new mums, what is good to consider and what is best to avoid? I am sure no one committing the "crimes" listed below does so on purpose, but I am sure that plenty of new mums could do without them, so here are the 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting a New Mum.
1. Not bringing new mum sustenance (or have her provide food for you)
If there is one thing you don't want to worry about after having a baby it's cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, or anything down that lane. Having visitors can be exhausting on new mums in the first weeks, especially if they feel they need to cater to them. When you're still bleeding from your placenta, your vagina has the resemblance of Klitschko's face after a fight and your boobs are dripping milk and blood, the last thing you want to do is find a snack for Auntie Gladys or make coffee while they goo over the new baby. In German, the postpartum period has the wonderful name "Wochenbett", which translates to "week bed", or "childbed", i.e. the first six after giving birth you're supposed to be mainly in bed (my midwife told me the rule: week 1, inside bed; week 2, around the bed; week 3, around the house).
However, what is welcome when you are glued to the sofa for feeding sessions, is someone coming over to help YOU out, not just gush over the baby. If you visit a new mum, bring at least a cake, but best some soup in a large container, or some over pre-cooked food that can be frozen. Even a super-prepared mum who pre-cooked and froze everything, will appreciate a treat, believe me.
2. Bombarding new mum with advice
Admittedly, it can help to hear from other mums and their experiences. For example, it can be beneficial to tell a mum with sore nipples about how you had that too and how it went away eventually. This might give her hope; however, what no new mum needs is unsolicited advice - actually, bear that in mind not only for postpartum, but in general. (You can read about my approach about criticising other mums here). Being bombarded with how you did it and what is, in your opinion, the best way only puts pressure on mums, and she has the right to figure it out for herself. If a mum asks your opinion, sure, fire away in a compassionate way, but otherwise, just shut up. Many new mums already feel overwhelmed by motherhood in the first weeks (and also beyond, sometimes), so piling on how they could do it better doesn't do anyone a service. On the contrary, show support and reassure a new mum that she's doing a good job.
3. Not asking mum how she is feeling
Having a baby can sometimes feel like you're subsumed into the role of mother. Where is the woman I was before? I experience that strongly on and off until this day, and it is often triggered by people not asking anything about me but just concentrating on my children.
As mentioned earlier, many new mums feel overwhelmed, have baby blues, or even postpartum depression, so make sure to check in with a new mum as well. Don't ask millions of questions about the baby, how much it weighs, is the bowel movement regular, does it sleep through the night (which is a ridiculous question anyway because, spoiler alert, no newborn does). Ask questions about her, what did she do today, how is she feeling, and also about some none-baby topics, maybe. I still experience it to this day that when I visit family sometimes, the kids get showered with questions and games and are entertained - which is also helpful sometimes - but I get completely overlooked. I don't get asked how I am or what is on my mind at the moment, and that sucks sometimes.
4. Not helping mum out with daily chores/children
This tip ties in with the first one. New mums shouldn't really leave the bed too much to ensure all inner wounds heal well, so household should be off the table. However, especially if the mum already has a child or has no support from her partner during the day (or none at all), the household can get out of hand. Just popping in some laundry, cleaning the kitchen or playing with the older child can give mum a break to either take a shower and get herself sorted, sleep or tend to the new baby.
Of course many visitors come to see the baby, but for a new mum it's pretty unhelpful if you just sit around for hours without at least offering help. You're tired, aching and now have to keep up appearances for visitors while the laundry pile continues to grow.
5. Taking the Baby in Your Arms Without Asking
I've added this tip in, although it has never particularly bothered me, but I know it from many other mums. Some mums can barely let go of their babies in the beginning. It is mesmerizing to hold your baby in your arms after nine long months and overprotective mode can be triggered when someone just snatches your baby out of your arm to dote on them. While you holding the baby while mummy gets some rest or take a shower (see tip before), some mums don't like their precious bundle of joy being torn away from them. Consider that new mums are also high on hormones and you should always respectfully ask whether you can hold the baby, and accept it gracefully if the mum declines. It's not about not trusting you, but just about not wanting to let go just yet.
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