How To Be There for a New Mom

While everyone else is looking at the baby, you can support the new mom.

By Suzanne Hall

When you get that long-awaited call that your new grandchild has arrived, your instinct may be to grab the adorable newborn outfit you bought and wrapped so carefully and race it over to the hospital. But before you go, think about what you'll do when you get there and what else you might take along in your bag just for the new mom.

Ask What She Needs, Then Listen

Despite our best intentions, we grandparents often make mistakes when we arrive at the hospital. We wait impatiently to hold the new baby and scowl at whoever got there first. Or we head down the hall to stand with our noses pushed up against the nursery window, oohing and cooing at the baby from afar. We don't take our minds off the new child long enough to pay a little attention to our daughter or daughter-in-law, who, of course, did all the work!

"It's very important to focus on the mom, not just the baby," says Marijke Durning, a registered nurse from Montreal who writes about medical issues, including postpartum care. She suggests asking mom how she is doing, and what she needs, not just how the baby is sleeping, nursing, or eating. That lets her know that while you're obviously interested in the baby, you also came to visit — and support — her.

The new baby's dad may be occupied with other tasks — or may just be exhausted himself — so don't assume that he, or anyone else, is available to rush out and get the new mom what she needs. If she says she's hungry, or craving a certain food, try to get it, or order it, for her. When Durning's first child was born, family members brought her pizza. "For my second one, we had pink doughnuts and balloons," says Lynne Schreiber, a mother of three from Detroit.

Remember, too, that what mom may really want is some peace and quiet. "These days, moms are not kept in the hospital for very long," Durning says, "and it can be overwhelming to receive visitors during the short visiting hours." If your daughter or daughter-in-law gets weary, act as her gatekeeper — when friends or other family members call the hospital room to ask about visiting, gently but firmly suggest that they wait until the new family gets home.

Pampering Is Always Welcome

"Let's face it," says Rachel Vidoni, a mother of three from Easton, Mass.," after the birth of a baby, you look awful, feel awful, and smell awful! I would have liked some nicely-scented lotions, expensive shampoos and conditioners, or a pedicure or a facial — anything that makes you feel like a normal woman." As a new grandparent, show a mom how you can step up by arranging for the time or products that will help her start feeling herself again, or act as a little birdie in the ear of a friend or relative who can help out.

It's even better, of course, if you can think of such things before the mother-to-be goes into labor. Schreiber says she remains thankful that her sister gave her "super-soft cotton PJs" for the hospital right before her maternity stay. "As soon as I could, I put them on. I instantly felt prettier and more myself," she says

Will You Be There?

Vidoni's mother-in-law stayed with her and handled the household laundry 24/7 for two weeks after the births of each of her three children. Other grandparents who are up to the task of briefly watching over a newborn can help immeasurably just by being present while a mother sleeps or takes a walk around the block. "All I wanted to do was sleep," Vidoni says. "After you have a baby, it's wonderful to have someone take care of things that need to be done."

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