When a new baby has entered the world, of course you're desperate to go and have a cuddle.
As well as a new baby though, there is also a sleep-deprived, hormonal, potentially quite sore mother to think of, who is doing her best to build confidence and self esteem as a new mother.
While the new parents are probably keen to show off the gorgeous little person they made to the world, they may also be a little worse for wear.
Here are 10 top tips (in no particular order) to help you secure a second invitation for cuddles, by impressing the new parents by being the perfect guest.
Visitor Rule #1: Wait To Be Invited
New babies are lovely, aren't they? The newer, the better. Those tiny little toes… oh and their cute wrinkly arms, and the huge, adorable eyes they look up at you with.
But that doesn't mean you can simply drop around unannounced, especially in the early days when baby needs to be in mama's arms most of all. Frequent breastfeeding is also important, especially in the early weeks, in order to establish a good breastmilk supply.
New parents have plenty to deal with without surprise guests turning up. Send a card, email or message congratulating them on the birth, and mention that you'd love to meet the new baby when they're ready, and then wait to be invited.
If you turn up unannounced, mama may be in the middle of a meltdown with leaking boobs, holding a baby she hasn’t been able to settle for hours, while being half dressed and possibly suffering from post-baby blues or even postnatal depression. She might feel really embarrassed and upset if you rock up, seeing her in her most vulnerable state. It can really feel like an invasion of privacy, and definitely not conducive to encouraging future visits.
Reduce the pressure she feels by making sure all visits are planned and you arrive on time (she may have timed the visit around those essential naps or when she thinks the baby may feed again) and even make a check-in call before you leave home, to make sure it’s still a good time. This also presents a great opportunity to ask them if you can bring any milk, fruit, nappies, toilet paper or any other essential items that they have run out of.
Visitor Rule #2: Know When To Stay Away
It's important to remember that new babies haven't yet developed strong immune systems, and they are especially vulnerable to illness. If you are feeling under the weather, even if it's just a snotty nose, stay away. Rearrange your visit when you are feeling better, do not risk making a newborn baby poorly – the parents will not thank you for that!
Even if you have no symptoms, you can carry germs and bugs that can make little babies sick, for example, whooping cough – even if you've been vaccinated.
Always, always wash your hands before holding a baby and avoid kissing them – especially on the lips, face or hands which often go into their mouths. Never stick your fingers in the baby’s mouth, washed or not. Read this story to see what happened to a poor little newborn after a visitor kissed her on the lips.
Visitor Rule #3: Please Bring Food!
Babies, lovely as they are, can be hard work. They feed a lot, get through up to 20 nappies a day, and they love being cuddled. Looking after a newborn baby is a fulltime job (with exhausting overtime hours), and many new parents struggle to find the time to cook, eat and wash up, at a time when a healthy, nutritious meal is so very important. Take some food with you when you visit the new parents, even if they tell you they don’t want anything.
You could make a casserole, a hearty chicken and vegetable soup, a healthy slice or some fresh fruit – anything that will help to get some food inside those bleary-eyed new parents.
Here’s another great idea for you: BellyBelly’s delicious lactation cookies recipe – they taste amazing and help boost breastmilk supply. You might also like to print out the recipe for mama to make her own if she needs it later. Or, next time you drop in for a cuppa, bring some more for morning tea. Don’t worry, you wont start magically lactating! They are very nutritious for the whole family.
Visitor Rule #4: Assume The Role Of The Host
Don't wait to be offered a drink or be waited on, it is a privilege, not a right, that mum and dad have invited you into their home to share the very important, early days at home with a baby. Head straight to the kitchen and offer to make one for everyone. The new parents have enough on their plates looking after the baby, let alone entertaining a host of people for days or even weeks on end – and you can help them out by looking after them. Offer them drinks, see if they want you to grab any food from the kitchen, and generally make yourself useful.
Visitor Rule #5: Help Out – Be An Extra Pair Of Hands
If you head notice a pile of dirty dishes on the side, ask the mother if she would be okay with you to fill the sink and get cleaning.
It's always important to ask, because for some new mothers, a hand with cleaning is an absolute godsend. But for others, they couldn't imagine anything more awful than someone cleaning up on their behalf.
Giving the kitchen sides a quick wipe down, tidying the living room or hoovering the hallway could free up some time for the new family to bond, which is so important in those early days. A great start early on makes it so much easier down the track.
Even before they're mobile, babies create a lot of mess, and new parents are unlikely to have the time and energy for cleaning. If you're a close friend, offer to put a load of washing on or clean the bathroom.
My disclaimer here is that some mothers may not like the idea of you cleaning their home, but if you know them well enough you should be able to make a pretty good judgement call. Some mothers may feel particularly guilty (especially first time mothers), so if you want to ask her about doing the dishes rather than just digging in, you might like to say something like, ’I’d really love to take any work off your hands so you can spend more quality time bonding with your baby. Would you mind if I quickly did the dishes for you?’ Just asking, ‘Can I do anything?’ can be a bit more challenging and conflicting for a new mother to answer.
If there are other siblings, it can be a huge relief for mum and dad if you do something with the siblings – even if you just interact with them for the visit, take them to the park, out the back to play – anything so the older children feel that they have some special attention too and mum and dad can focus on the baby’s needs which are of course, very high needs.
Visitor Rule #6: Wait To Be Offered To Hold The Baby
Ideally you should wait to be offered a cuddle, when mama is ready and comfortable.
Mothers can find it very difficult to say no when friends and family visit, as they fear being judged or may feel guilty if they don’t want baby to be passed around. Especially in the early days post birth, the mama bear instinct is usually very strong. It's mother nature’s very clever way of wiring a mother to bond, protect and nurture her baby. It should be embraced, not fought against.
But if you want to ask, and if you've followed all the guidelines until now, you may be safe for a quick cuddle. Pop the kettle on, make a hot drink for the new parents, and then offer to hold the baby so that they can drink it.
You might like to ask, “Would you like a quick break from baby while you drink your cuppa, or are you okay?” It may have been a while since the mother had chance to drink a hot drink on her own, so she may to be grateful for the opportunity. Let mama know you’re going to wash your hands first, then give them a good scrube with soap and water, to show you have baby’s health at front of mind before the long awaited cuddle.
If you arrive and the baby is asleep, DO NOT wake the baby up, or expect the parents to wake the baby. It may have been a long time between naps, and mum and dad have to deal with the aftermath of a baby who is overtired and overstimulated from company all day. Be content that next time is okay for a cuddle. Waking up a sleeping baby will make mum and dad VERY cranky! Do so at your own peril… but don’t expect an invite back!
Visitor Rule #7: Know When To Give Baby Back
This has to be one of the biggest peeves of new mothers, when guests arrive and don’t want to give back or share the baby. I've even heard stories of relatives running off to other rooms in the house to have a longer cuddle.
Have a quick cuddle, then let baby have some time back with mama to reset and feel safe. Else let someone else have a turn if a the mother has given you the nod.
If the baby starts crying during your hold, no matter how short or long the cuddle as been, offer him back to the parents. Some parents may be happy for you to settle the baby, but for those who aren't, it can be torturous hearing your baby cry in the arms of another. A baby’s cry can make a new mother anxious and unsettled – it can even result in an increase in heart rate and blood pressure in both mother and baby. It's a survival instinct.
Call backs will be very unlikely if you don’t understand when it's time to give the baby back.
Visitor Rule #8: Be Sure To Only Say Nice Things
If you think the baby is wonderful and cute, and if you think the parents are doing a great job, feel free to tell them.
But don't try to offer any advice, unless specifically asked. If mama says she feels tired, this isn't an opportunity for you to push your parenting views on her. Be empathetic instead, so she can feel validated and understood, rather than feeling like an incompetent mother. If you're asked for advice, feel free to share your ideas, but always do this is a non-judgmental away. All parents are different, however most new parents lack confidence to some degree. Do all you can to help build their confidence with kind and reassuring words.
It's also important to understand that the early days of attachment and bonding are critical for establishing milk supply. It takes lots of work, lots of time at the breast and lots of support and encouragement. Do not break out in stories of how awful or difficult breastfeeding was for you. Nor should you suggest they try some formula to make it easier on them.
But if they ask, you can definitely suggest they get some professional support from the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s free help line, or from a trained IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) who can help in-home. Leave the help and advice up to the experts, because many breastfeeding problems are easily fixable, and are often to do with latch issues or feeding schedules.
Visitor Rule #9: Don't Expect Too Much
If the new parents look like zombies when you arrive, don't expect much in the way of conversation. Help them relieve their pressure to be perfect hosts by chatting away yourself.
If you visit within the first few weeks of the birth, you may be treated to details of the birth, breastfeeding difficulties and all manner of other overshares. So take it in your stride, and avoid any negative words like ‘gross’ or ‘thats disgusting’.
When breastmilk establishes, a mothers breasts may be very full or engorged, which can make breastfeeding a little difficult, especially managing it discretely. Try and give her space and privacy to breastfeed – she may feel a little embarrassed if she really wants to feed her baby quickly, but her boobs have a mind of their own, busting out at the most inopportune times, as they do.
It’s also important to not overstay your visit. Ask her if she’d like some rest during your visit, as it’s likely everyone and anyone wants to come and visit, which can quickly result in an exhausted mother. She may feels guilty saying no to visitors.
Some new mothers find they end up with back to back visitors, and they feel completely drained by the end of the day – when the craziness of nightshift begins.
Visitor Rule #10: Don't Outstay Your Welcome
As a general rule, unless you’ve been given the green light otherwise, an hour is the maximum time you should spend visiting a new baby. It may not sound like much, but right after giving birth and with sleep deprivation to contend with, its big work to be sociable, entertain and put on a smiley face for too long.
Some parents may tell you that their favourite guests were the ones who rocked up with food, tidied the kitchen, made everyone a drink, had a quick cuddle and then left. The parents will still be bonding with their newborn, and this process can take time, so they will appreciate more time to spend as a new family.
Visitor Rule #11: Don't Forget Mum!
After a long pregnancy that has been physically and emotionally taxing, let alone a labour which has likely been exhausting and wearisome, the focus all of a sudden turns on the baby, and the mother often forgotten. Make sure you give mum lots of love and fuss too, ask her how she’s feeling, what her experience was and if she has plenty of support. Its important to make sure mum is doing well emotionally post birth as post natal depression is sadly too common. Don’t forget to check in with dad too. Ask how he’s going or if there’s anything he needs – he’s a star of the show too.
In China, it is traditional for the new mother to stay at home with her baby for the first month. Grandparents and other relatives take on the housework, cooking and any other duties, to allow the mother ample time to bond with her newborn. In some Latin American countries, the mother is looked after for 40 days, allowing her time to heal and to bond with her new baby. A similar tradition is followed in India, though there it lasts 45 days. The new mother is not supposed to step foot in the kitchen, and instead other relatives will cook and clean for the family.
In Australia, there is no such tradition, but by following the above rules, you can help the new parents to settle into their new roles. And, if you follow the above tips, you will almost certainly be invited back for a second visit sometime soon.