You’ve just had a baby, and you probably feel like you’ve been hit by a truck… yet your social calendar has never been busier.
I remember when I had my first daughter four years ago, I secretly wished I could just put her in a germ-safe, Popemobile-esque car and take her for a victory lap around the pub so all of our loved ones could see her in one hit. Then, I could crawl back to bed and hibernate.
While every family will approach this time differently – in fact, in many Eastern cultures, new mothers spend the first 40 days post-birth inside, being “cocooned” and cared for with minimal visitors; this sacred period is called postpartum confinement and is a centuries-old practice to protect the mother and baby – there are some fundamental rules all visitors should adhere to.
For many new parents and parents-to-be, this may be the first juncture in their friendships where they’ve needed to put these kinds of parameters in place, which can be uncomfortable. But knowledge is power, and we’re not asking you to do these things for shits and giggles. It’s because we’re simply trying to look after a little person we love deeply who can’t yet advocate for themselves.
I spoke with Lauren Brenton, a certified midwife and founder of One Mama Midwife, about how friends and family can best support new parents when they visit, and her advice is something every support person needs to hear.
Make your visit short and sweet
New parents are pooped and don’t want to spend their potential rest time hosting (while of course this all comes down to the individual and some may crave longer hangouts and goss from the outside world). Make any visit no longer than half an hour, a “pop in” if you will. Caveat your visit with a cancellation at any time clause, especially if they’ve had a rocky night.
DO NOT come if you’re sick!
People shouldn’t visit a newborn if they’re sick. Even the slightest sniffle can be super dangerous for a baby.
As Lauren explains, “Newborn babies aren’t born with much immunity, and their immune system is not fully developed, which means that they are more vulnerable to picking up infections and getting sick from mild illnesses such as the flu. What may seem like a runny nose or occasional sneeze to you may be more severe to a baby who has not been in contact with those viruses before.”
So even if you feel relatively fine but are still a bit sniffy, please rain-check for another day to keep bub safe and well. Likewise, if you have any little ones who may not be 100%, it’s best to reschedule so you don’t unknowingly pass on any germs to the baby.
Sure, flowers and onesies are nice, but bringing food is even better
Looking after a newborn is a round-the-clock job, and one of the first things to fall to the bottom of the to-do list is making yourself food (unless Vegemite toast counts?). If you want to support a new family but need help figuring out where to start, dropping food off on their doorstep is always welcome.
It doesn’t have to be a home-cooked masterpiece, either. On my first night home after having my second child, our best mates ordered our favourite Mexican to be delivered to our place. It was a thoughtful gesture that made that first night back more manageable.
If you’re popping over to their house, pick up coffee or some refreshments (pastries and fresh bakery bread are always a winner) on the way, or make them a cup of tea when you’re there. Do not, I repeat, do not let them get you a single thing during your visit.
“Meals are one of the best ways to support a family postpartum and reduce their mental and physical load. Women recovering from birth and those breastfeeding require more calories and nutrients than during pregnancy to support the physiological changes occurring. It is essential to look for meals that will replenish the mother's nutrients, such as protein, fats, iodine, zinc, grains, and starch,” Lauren advises.
For those who want to make a new family a nourishing, home-cooked meal or snack pack, Lauren’s top recommendations for postpartum mamas include:
- Chicken noodle soup
- Vegetable-packed lasagna or a mushroom and lentil lasagna
- Chicken and vegetable pie
- Vegetable quiche
- Lamb coconut curry
- Tuna and vegetable pasta bake
- Minestrone soup
- Snacks: muesli bars, oat cookies/lactation cookies, roasted almonds, cheese and crackers, carrot cake
- Hydration Powder from Franjos Kitchen - “This is the only one I personally endorse,” Lauren says.
Let the parents know if you’re up to date with your vaccinations
Honestly, hearing this is music to our ears! Some parents don’t want to rock the boat on this topic and may suffer in silence, freaking out every time someone holds the baby, while others have a firm no-jab-no-cuddle policy. Remove the stress off them and take the lead by letting them know what jabs you’ve had or are planning to get in time for the baby’s arrival.
I can remember labouring over the text I sent out to close friends and family asking them to please, if they don’t mind, if it’s not too much of a hassle, could they get the whooping cough jab for my daughter? I didn’t want to seem too assertive, too bossy, or too demanding. I think I penned about 17 versions before hitting send. (Lol! Do you think my husband had any of these concerns? Of course not. These days, I often try to channel his straight-to-the-point, matter-of-fact tone instead of writing an essay punctuated with grovelling apologies).
But since welcoming two kids, one during COVID, I’ve learned that my natural instincts in protecting my daughters are very strong, and I couldn’t give a crap about “offending” anyone when asking them to follow the basic medical protocols to help look after society’s most vulnerable members.
Lauren agrees, with the midwife highlighting that if you’re going to be in close contact with a newborn in the first six weeks of their life, you must get the whooping cough jab at the very least.
“Having the whooping cough vaccine is essential in keeping the baby safe. Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It often causes a ‘whoop’-sounding cough, which is where the name comes from. This whooping sound comes from the narrowing of the vocal cords when trying to breathe in. Whooping cough is severe if contracted by a baby under six months of age, and most adults don’t know that they have the infection when they are contagious,” she cautions.
Lauren recommends getting the whooping cough injection from your GP at least two weeks before meeting the baby. This way, immunity has time to kick in, reducing the risk of unknowingly spreading the virus to the baby.
“Other vaccinations to consider to help keep baby safe include the COVID vaccination and the flu vaccination,” Lauren adds.
Make a point of washing your hands when you arrive, and please don’t kiss the baby
Washing your hands is such a small but reassuring act that new parents will appreciate. Thankfully, in a post-COVID world, most people do this anyway but when you’re around a precious, fresh bub it’s a must.
“To help stop the spread of unwanted bacteria and viruses to our babies, it is essential to always wash your hands before holding a baby. This is especially important in the first two months when the baby hasn’t been vaccinated,” Lauren reveals.
Another thing to avoid is kissing the baby. We know this is super hard cause babies are adorable and the most kissable people on earth, but it’s just not worth the risk.
“Kissing a newborn can put them at risk of developing HSV (herpes simplex virus, commonly known as cold sores), which can be life-threatening for a baby. Even a small peck is enough to spread the virus, so it is recommended not to kiss a baby if you aren’t the parents or caregiver,” Lauren explains.
Don’t wear perfume
She also cautions against wearing perfume when visiting a newborn. “This is because the baby’s respiratory system is still developing, and breathing in harmful chemicals in perfumes can irritate or potentially damage their lungs,” she says.
If you’re a smoker, it’s a good idea to shower and change into fresh clothes before visiting.
“It is essential not to smoke or vape around a baby. Second-hand smoke can cause a range of adverse outcomes for babies, including but not limited to SIDS (Ssudden infant death syndrome), asthma attacks, ear infections, and respiratory infections,” the midwife says.
Don’t ask to cuddle the baby
Wait to be invited, or not. Be led by the parents and what they’re comfortable with. While parents may feel pressure to let well-meaning friends and family hold their baby when they visit, Lauren has a few clever tips on setting boundaries so they’re not passed around like a sack of potatoes.
“If you’re uncomfortable with others holding your baby, wear them in a carrier. This way, people won’t ask to hold the baby because they’re all snuggled up in the carrier. It’s is also perfect for any big events or gatherings,” she shares.
“Another thing to do is simply say that you’re not ready for the baby to be held at such a young age or that you’re going to try to put the baby to sleep now and don’t want the baby to be held. Trying to establish boundaries, especially with loved ones, is hard but at the end of the day, they will understand and want the best for you and your baby,” she says.
For the love of a freshly-fed baby, please don’t be late!
The amount of behind-the-scenes maths equations that happen to ensure bub has just been fed so they’re content and full (and our boobs are tucked away) by the time a guest arrives would surprise you. So, please, please don’t be late! Some mums may not feel comfortable feeding in front of other people yet, so if they’ve given you a specific time to arrive, make an effort to stick to it.