You’ve been watching your phone for days or weeks, and checking social media several times a day waiting for the news. Baby is finally here! Your friend or cousin or coworker or whoever is deep in the land of new mommyhood. And you’re ready to help! But before you drop everything to arrange a visit, check in with yourself.
How can you really help? Every new mom needs something, but most of us are terrible at asking for anything specific. So don’t just generically offer to help with chores, or say “Let me know if you need anything!” Because she’ll never let you know. Instead, arrive prepared to help in a real way. Bring your game face. Don’t just offer to help; get in there and do something meaningful!
No matter what time of day you have arranged to show up (You did make arrangements, right? You’re not just “dropping by”?), your new mom friend is exhausted. Full stop. She recently gave birth, she’s been awake half the night feeding a squirmy little infant who has a hard time latching or who keeps spewing the contents of their bottle everywhere, and everything hurts. Do a mom a favor and bring some coffee, am I right? Or tea, or whatever sugary (or not) and caffeine-laden (or not) drink she prefers. And then help out with the baby so she can drink it while it’s still hot (or before the ice melts)
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Everyone thinks that their baby is the absolute best, sweetest, cutest baby the world has ever seen. That’s okay and normal. So tap into Mama’s excitement and be lavish with your praise: of the baby, of her, of her family, of her life. Ask questions about how she’s feeling and how baby is growing so far. Try to avoid asking questions that may make her feel like she’s failing in any way (such as is she a good sleeper? Gag). Admire Baby’s hair and toes and that chunky (or maybe not chunky quite yet) belly. Do everything in your power to make your friend feel like the world’s best mom.
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A mom with a new baby is bound to have questions, whether this is her first or her fourth. There are things we forget, things we never knew, and new situations that arise. Offer up your expertise as you can! Be sure to avoid coming across as judgmental: don’t push breastfeeding OR formula; don’t rave about how well scheduled feedings work for you; don’t brag about your badass natural birth or the ease of your cesarean recovery. But do answer any questions with honesty where you can. How long did your lochia last? Is waking up covered with sweat normal? Is it okay that Baby wants to feed every hour on the hour? Be honest, offer the knowledge you have, and refer her to a professional when necessary.
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Trust us on this one. She may be in milk-stained pajamas and her hair is probably a mess, but new moms just glow, and most would love a picture with their little one that isn’t staged (although professional photographs are beautiful, too!) and that puts their love on full display. Babies are tiny for such a short period of time, and the rush of feeds and sleep concerns means that many moms take tons of pictures of their newborn, but very few with their newborn. Offer to snap a few candid shots while you’re there. Whether she’s holding a sleeping baby, cooing over an awake baby, or feeding, chances are she’ll appreciate the picture later.
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Please, for the love of life, don’t bring over any more newborn or 0-3 month onesies; most new parents already have way more of those than is reasonable or necessary. But please, feel free to bring over some gently-used, good-condition outfits in larger sizes! Kids go through lots of clothes, sometimes needing fresh ones two or three times a day, especially after they start eating solid foods and through the toddler years. Most moms appreciate getting to bulk out their little one’s wardrobe a bit, especially when it means not having to make an extra run to the store. Plus, there’s just something special about a shirt or dress that was so well loved for one child, and is now getting a new lease on life with another.
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This is absolutely the top recommendation for how to help a new mom, and with good reason. Days after giving birth, parents are stressed beyond measure just trying to figure out how to keep their new little human alive; they certainly don’t have much time to be spending on keeping themselves alive! This is your cue, friend. Bring over a meal. Bring over two. Bring over some extra to toss in the freezer. Homecooked, store-bought, or from the drive-thru, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it’s fresh and nourishing and, ideally, easy to eat with one hand. Be sure to ask ahead of time about food allergies and religious and/or personal preferences.
My oldest was born when I was a young military wife living in a city far away from my family and lifelong friends, and the nicest thing anyone did for me post-baby was to organize a meal train. For two weeks after giving birth, people showed up at my door every afternoon with giant portions of food. Please consider doing this for your new mom friend. It doesn’t matter if she’s got a partner at home who will supposedly help cook, or if her MIL is flying in to town. It doesn’t matter if half the people bringing by meals are your own friends, who she doesn’t even personally know. What matters is that Mama gets fed. The Internet makes this even easier, with websites that help well-meaning friends put together meal trains and even let the organizer provide info about preferences or allergies. Food will always be appreciated.
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One thing many new moms are unprepared for is the amount of downtime one gets. Newborns sleep a lot. Much of that sleeping, however, happens either in Mom’s arms or attached to her breast. So do a new mother a favor and pick her up something lighthearted and fun to read during those quiet moments. A romance novel, a beach read, a mystery, or even a solid sci fi thriller; find out what she’s into, and get something exciting. Better yet, if she’s got an e-reader, consider gifting an electronic version; goodness knows it’s easier to “turn” the pages when reading doesn’t actually require two hands.
New parents spend an awful lot of time feeding their newborn, whether by breast or bottle. So one great way to help is by setting up a designated feeding area. Pick a comfy chair, prop a nursing pillow nearby, and bring a small basket loaded with snacks to keep on a nearby end table. Add some bottles of water, because parenting is a thirsty business. Buy an extra phone (or tablet) charger so she’ll always have one nearby. Then there’s a perfectly set up place for Mom to feed her little one, with plenty to keep her satisfied when the baby falls asleep in her lap.
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Parents of infants need help, but they often don’t know how to properly ask for it. And if all you, as a friend, do is to say “let me know how I can help,” chances are you’ll hear meaningless platitudes that they’re fine. Instead of being overly general, do something specific. Laundry piles up quickly with a newborn, so toss a load in when you first arrive, and be sure to at least get it into the dryer before you leave. If your friend isn’t uncomfortable with the idea, you can even fold it and put it away. But really, just getting some clothes and bedding clean makes a world of difference, and it will be so appreciated.
In addition to washing clothes, why not clean up the kitchen? Some days, it’s all a new mom can do to get food into her very hungry belly. Goodness knows it’s difficult to wash dishes or clean countertops with a newborn in arms. Help your friend by putting yourself to work. Whether you load up the dishwasher or wash the dishes by hand, the new mother will definitely appreciate having some clean plates and bowls to eat from. As a bonus, take the time to wipe down the counters and stove, and maybe even the inside of the microwave. Sweep the floor, and at least one room in the house is clean! That way, the new parent can relax and focus on her baby, rather than wasting precious time cleaning.
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Is your new mom friend using cloth diapers? Many cloth devotees avoid them in infancy, but whether she’s already using her stash or just getting ready for a month or two down the road, you can help get a batch ready for use. Pocket diapers can be stuffed and lined up neatly in baskets. Inserts can be stacked, and covers can be folded. If your friend prefers disposables, bring over a box or two and arrange them for easy access near the changing area. Bonus: bring over a tub or tube of your favorite gentle diaper rash ointment to put nearby.
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You’ve stocked the diaper changing area, so now it’s time to put it to use! Your new mom friend has years of changing diapers ahead of her, so take a literal load off her and offer to change a diaper or two while you’re there visiting. Let her get a break from the messiness of newborn blowouts and the inevitable poop-on-hands. Take one for the team and let the diaperless baby pee on you instead of mom. The parents will get to take the job over again soon enough, but while you’re visiting, take charge of keeping baby clean and dry.
Something every new mom gets tired of hearing: Can I hold the baby?? If you’re a few years removed from that stage, you may forget just how much a new mom’s arms ache for the feeling of her newborn when someone else is holding them. At the same time, who doesn’t love holding a tiny infant? Turn this into a win-win situation by giving the mom a chance to take a shower — a real shower, with hot water and shampoo and no baby wailing in the next room. Let her wash off the smell of spit-up and get that dried who-knows-what out of her hair. A shower does wonders for the soul, and your friend will return feeling refreshed and ready to mother again. And in the meantime, you get some snuggle time.
Before you come for your scheduled visit, give your friend a call and see what she needs from the store. No, seriously! Chances are good that she’s out of coffee or bananas or bread or some other essential, but isn’t quite willing to shell out the delivery fees for Instacart when her house is otherwise overflowing with food brought over by well-meaning friends. Ask her to text you a list and offer to pick up whatever she needs from wherever she prefers to shop. Alternatively, if she’s feeling a bit stir-crazy, offer to accompany her to the grocery store or nearest Target. She can push the stroller or hold the baby while you push the shopping cart.
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Sometimes, the excitement of a new baby can leave big brother or sister feeling a little bit neglected. Depending on how old older siblings are, they may also be bouncing off the walls for lack of outdoor playtime. One big way you can help, assuming the parents are on board, is to offer to take big bro or sis to the closest playground for some running and climbing. Mom gets to feed Baby in peace and without feeling like they’re neglecting their other children, and those other children get to burn off some energy while spending time with another caring adult. Win-win!
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Alternately, perhaps Mom would love to spend some time with her older child, but simply can’t with a newborn taking up all her time and attention. If she’s interested, you can watch or hold the baby during a nap or quiet time so that your friend can spend some time reading to her other children, playing board games, or even going out for a quick treat at Starbucks. Her other children will appreciate the one-on-one attention, and Mom will rest easy knowing that her baby is well cared for and close by (just in case she’s needed sooner than expected).
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Guess who else might be feeling neglected in the midst of the new baby shuffle? A new parent’s faithful canine friend may be in need of some extra love, and that’s where you can come in. If you have the time and energy for it, take the dog to a nearby dog park for an hour or so, to run around and mingle with fellow furry friends. But even if that’s not quite feasible for you, even a short walk around the neighborhood will be a welcome change from being let out to the backyard to do business. Just be sure you’re responsible and clean up after it, and that you follow other safety rules.
We already know that new parents fall behind on the housework; that’s totally expected, and no one cares because we’ve all been there. If you really want to make a difference for your new mom friend, though, go beyond the usual household chores and do some of the work no one else will think of: seasonal chores. If it’s an autumn baby, offer to rake and bag any leaves in their front and back yard. In the winter, if it’s snowed recently, you can shovel the sidewalks and driveway, or else salt those same surfaces prior to the next storm. In the spring, get the garden started or tend to the plants that went in the ground prior to Baby’s arrival.
So maybe housework isn’t really your thing, or you’re not comfortable dealing in other people’s messes. Or maybe the new mom isn’t particularly keen on having someone else fold her undies. Another option is to hire a professional cleaner to tidy up for the new parents. Even just one or two bookings of a cleaning service will mean the world to a new mother who is barely functioning on broken sleep, and who definitely doesn’t have time to do anything beyond the bare essentials. If you’re looking for a way to throw money at the situation to help out, this is one of your best options.
Raise your hand if you didn’t discover until after baby had arrived earthside that you really did, in fact, want that bassinet (or changing table, or other piece of baby gear). Yes? Chances are good your mom friend is in the same boat, and maybe has sent her partner or a family member to the store to pick up some last-minute furniture. Or maybe she already had everything she needed, but simply didn’t have enough time to assemble everything before labor started. Here’s where you can come in! Put your furniture-building skills to work and make sure Baby’s room is finally completely ready.
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If you want to make a big sacrifice, offer to lose some of your own precious sleep to help out overnight. If the new mama is interested, you can stay with them overnight a time or two and help in whatever way you can with those middle-of-the-night feeds. A breastfeeding mom might just appreciate the company and having someone to help sort the little one’s sleep latch. A formula feeder, meanwhile, might take you up on the offer to get a longer chunk of uninterrupted sleep while you completely handle a feeding or two. A pumping mama might appreciate shorter night wakings as you feed while she pumps more milk for the next feed. There’s no right or wrong here. Feed the baby, feed the mom, help her get more sleep, or help her simply get back to sleep sooner. Whatever you can do will be helpful.
For the first few days after a baby is born, it may seem like friends and distant relatives come out of the woodwork to offer to help. But by the end of the first week, chances are many of those offers have dried up. People have dropped off meals or a lovingly-selected onesie and then: crickets. But anyone who’s been there knows it only gets harder after the first few days. Sleep deprivation sets in, postpartum hormones go wacko, and OMG breastfeeding is rough! Don’t be like everyone else. Offer to help right away. And keep offering to help, maybe not daily but at least every few days. Your offer will be so appreciated.
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It’s a universal truth that all women need a chance to decompress after giving birth. We want to talk about it. If it was an amazing, all natural, med-free birth, the mom may want to gush about those endorphins. If it was an amazing, induced, epidural-fueled birth, the mom may need to talk about how great it was to not feel those contractions. And if it was an amazing, somewhere-in-between birth, or an amazing cesarean birth, or any other amazing birth, well, let her talk! Conversely, if things went off-plan; if baby went into distress; if the nurses were awful; if Mama suffered some degree of trauma; please let her talk. Birth is a huge event, and she needs time to process the enormous change her life just underwent. By offering a shoulder to cry on or a body to hug or just an ear to listen, you will help.