Dear friends and family who are eagerly awaiting an invitation to visit a newborn baby,
The new parents are tired. So tired.
They’re happy, overwhelmed, infatuated, scared, and proud, but mostly, they’re tired.
They don’t have the energy for an awkward conversation, and definitely can’t stomach confrontation, so here’s a list of the things they don’t want you to do when visiting their newborn baby (but would probably never tell you for fear of offending you):
Things To Avoid #1: Smoking
Some hospitals now ask smoking guests to wear hospital gowns over their clothes when holding a baby. Third hand smoke (the stuff that lingers on your clothes, hair and breath) is bad for health, and experts now warn parents to take action against third hand smoke.
When visiting a newborn, make sure you are wearing fresh, clean clothes. If you smoke in your home, even your clean clothes may smell of cigarettes so ask if you can borrow a jumper before holding the baby. Do not smoke before or during the visit, even outside.
Things To Avoid #2: Drinking Hot Drinks While Holding The Baby
There is nothing more terrifying than the sight of a friend sipping a boiling hot tea over the head of your newborn baby.
By all means have a cup of tea, just don’t drink it whilst holding the brand new baby.
Things To Avoid #3: Assuming You Can Take Your Kids
Being a new mother is a bit like taking a break from reality. Her world has just been turned upside down in the most wonderful way possible, and every moment is consumed with feeds, nappies and overwhelming love.
These brand new families exist in the warm, cosy bubble of their houses. They talk in soft voices, sing lullabies and walk around sleepily cradling their newborn babies. Nothing bursts that blissful bubble quite like the whirlwind of someone else’s children. No matter how lovely, well-behaved and gentle your children are, it is best not to assume they are invited.
While some new parents will want them to visit, others may prefer just to have adult guests for the first couple of weeks. Offer to leave your kids at home for your first visit, and see what the new parents say.
Things To Avoid #4: Being Late
It’s not that the new parents think that the world is rotating around them, and they’re really not being self-important or taking themselves too seriously – they’re just really tired, and they have so many people wanting to visit and steal cuddles with the new baby.
They’ve had to make time for everyone to visit, and try to make sure they have the energy to stay awake during the visits, so please turn up on time. And if you are running late, let them know as soon as possible.
Things To Avoid #5: Unwashed Hands
Your hands may look clean, but they’re probably harbouring germs from the outside world.
Think of all the things you’ve touched since you last washed your hands, and then imagine passing all of those potential germs over to the new baby who hasn’t yet developed a strong immune system. Please make sure you wash your hands before holding the new baby.
Even with washed hands, kissing a baby on the lips or putting your fingers in the baby’s mouth is one of a new parent’s biggest pet peeves.
Some families are scrambling out to get vaccinated to help protect the baby from germs and disease. However, bear in mind that recently vaccinated people could be unknowingly spreading the disease they have been vaccinated against. For example, read our article on Whooping Cough facts and tips.
Things To Avoid #6: Waking The Baby
This seems like a no-brainer, but sadly some guests do take it upon themselves to disturb sleeping babies. You may be desperate to see those beautiful big eyes, but rest assured they are probably murky coloured at the moment, and you’ll be able to get a better idea about eye colour on your next visit.
Newborn babies sleep for as many as 18 hours a day, and this sleep is really important for development. Not only that, the parents may have recently spent an hour or two comforting their crying baby to finally get baby to sleep. Remember, the person who goes out of their way to wake the baby is rarely invited back in a hurry.
Things To Avoid #7: Coming Over While Sick
There’s not much you can do to avoid getting sick, but you can cancel your appointment to meet the new baby. The new parents are likely to be feeling worn out, and their immune systems may be compromised as a result.
On top of this, there is a newborn baby who hasn’t yet been exposed to the plethora of germs and viruses out there. So do the right thing, and stay away until you are feeling better and no longer contagious, so the parents don’t have to worry about caring for a sick new baby.
Things To Avoid #8: Pushing For A Cuddle
This one may seem a bit strange, after all, you’re there to visit the baby so why shouldn’t you expect a cuddle?
Remember though, the mother is likely to be feeling tired, hormonal and emotional, so give her the chance to offer you a cuddle from the baby. She may be waiting for the next feed, or just enjoyed a cuddle with her baby after the last set of guests departed, so wait until the mother offers you a cuddle.
Things To Avoid #9: Keeping Hold Of A Screaming Baby
When babies cry, it’s time to hand them back to their parents. The baby could be hungry, need changing, or simply miss the smell of his mum. Whatever it is, chances are they want their parents back.
Much as the new parents will appreciate the chance to nip to the bathroom or enjoy a hot drink whilst you’re holding the baby, parents are pretty much programmed to respond immediately to their babies’ cries.
Things To Avoid #10: Leaving A Mess
When you leave the house, there should be no signs you were ever there.
Tidy up the wrapping paper of the gift you brought, wash up your cup before you leave, and make sure the new parents don’t have any jobs to do as a result of your visit.
Things To Avoid #11: Staring During Breastfeeds or Doing the Breastfeeding Face
Breastfeeding is tricky, especially at first. The new mother and new baby are both learning new skills, and are very likely to encounter some difficulties along the way. Not all, of course, but some new mothers feel added pressure when other people are present during feeds. Getting a newborn baby to latch on can be difficult, and the new mother may feel exposed with watching eyes in the room.
The key to being a good guest is to carry on as if nothing is happening. Keep chatting (and not about whether breastfeeding hurts), keep up eye contact and please, please don’t do the breastfeeding face. This is a grimace that uncomfortable friends and family members pull as your baby latches on. The new mum understands your facial expressions, and you’re making her feel uncomfortable. Breastfeeding is natural, so be natural with it.
Things To Avoid #12: Ignoring Feeding Cues
If you don’t have children yet, you can be forgiven for not knowing the feeding cues displayed by newborn babies.
Babies cry when they are hungry, but it’s not the first thing they will do – crying is a late hunger signal. Initially, babies will root around trying to find a nipple, put their fingers in their mouth, and become restless. These behaviours are the first clue that the baby is hungry, by the time the baby starts crying and is upset, it is much harder to achieve a proper latch. If you spot any feeding cues, offer the baby back to mum.
Things To Avoid #13: Giving Unsolicited Advice
If you are specifically asked for advice, great, give it. If not, please don’t join the hundreds of voices already telling these brand new parents how to do things ‘the right way’. Just listen, offer support, and know that if they want your advice, they’ll ask for it.
Things To Avoid #14: Outstaying Your Welcome
This is a tricky one, because how do you know when you’ve outstayed your welcome? You can probably judge this from the new parents, when they start to look like they’re lagging, they probably are. They are exhausted, and much as they love you company, they are really in need of sleep. As well as that, they need some time as a family to work on their new bond.
As a general rule, two hours is the longest you should stay, but many hosts prefer an even shorter visit than that. Make sure they know you won’t be offended if they ask you to leave, but also be sure to keep an eye on the time yourself so you don’t unwittingly outstay your welcome.
Things To Avoid #15: Expecting To Be Waited On
It can be really exhausting for new parents if their visitors just sit down and expect to be fixed with drinks, meals or any other forms of hospitality. The newborn phase is a short, but intense one, and it can be really helpful if you offer to make the cups of tea, help out with lunch, or even better – bring food for everyone to share.
It may seem a little over the top, especially if you never had that support or nurturing yourself, however, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we brought the community back and gave new mothers and their partners the support they so desperately need? Maybe then, we could help reduce the unfortunate rate of 1 in 7 new mothers experiencing post-natal depression.
All mothers and fathers are different and appreciate different levels of support. While this list wont be absolutely everyone’s cup of tea, they are points that are made many a time by new mothers. Put your feelers out, start with the list and ask for any feedback. The best thing you can do is to ask, not assume or take it upon yourself to do what you’d like for yourself. This is the key to maintaining strong, close relationships with those who have just had a baby.