The Do's and Don'ts When Visiting a Newborn
The birth of a baby is a breath of happiness for family and friends. Everyone wants to meet the newborn and welcome the child into the world, yet it is a delicate time: The mother is going through hormonal, physical and lifestyle changes, caregivers are exhausted and everyone is trying to preserve the baby's health.
While the rules may vary from family to family, it is important for parents to set certain boundaries to create a good atmosphere in the new home dynamic. It is not a matter of making anyone feel unwelcome, but it is important that visitors follow certain recommendations to take care of the baby's health and make the family feel comfortable.
Respect mom's and baby's privacy
When you visit a newborn, you must understand that the mother has been going through a huge transition. She needs those first few hours with the newborn to connect, or she may want to have the baby to herself for a few more hours before introducing him or her to the world.
"The maternal instincts and hormones are new, intense and, at times, primitive. We have to respect that. Those first six weeks are referred to as the fourth trimester for a reason," said Danielle Gauss, an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) based in Orange County, California.
In the same way, those first hours are essential for breastfeeding and we must give them space.
"Motherhood and breastfeeding are hard work. It takes time to get to know the baby's cues, build a bond, which doesn't always come naturally, and of course, recover from the marathon that is birth," Gauss explained.
Avoid visiting if you are sick
Stay home if you are sick and reschedule your visit. Remember that a newborn is vulnerable and can be affected even if you have mild symptoms.
"A newborn's immune system matures around the time they're 2 to 3 months [old]," said Lily Ochoa, R.N., a labor and delivery nurse in Miami who has a background in pediatric emergency nursing.
"Babies who are just a couple of days or weeks old can't fight off even simple viruses like common colds compared to how they are able to once their immunity becomes more developed," Ochoa explained. "A newborn who can't fight an infection can develop a fever and complications."
Keep the stories positive
The mom mainly needs support and words of encouragement.
"My advice is to try to keep the stories positive unless specifically asked otherwise. As a professional in the breastfeeding field, I still try not to overwhelm a new mom with too much information," said Erin Harris, M.S., M.A., a certified lactation educator in Costa Mesa, California.
New parents are discovering the whole process, and parents with multiple children are probably overwhelmed with tasks. Many friends and family members want to give advice about absolutely everything, but parents need to learn many things for themselves.
"What may be best is to direct them to the resources you found most helpful, rather than the traumatic birth or breastfeeding stories," Harris advised.
Schedule short visits
The mother has been through a long labor and is exhausted and adapting to a new life. You should call before visiting and ask for the hours that work best for the parents.
"Understand that bringing a new life into the world is hard work, and new mothers deserve all the time they need to rest and recover post-delivery," said Emmanuel Aguh, M.D., a board-certified family medicine doctor based in Ohio and known as the Whiz Doc on Instagram.
"A lot happens between the delivery and time for discharge, as it can get hectic with doctors and nurses coming in to see mother and baby, as well as feedings, diapers and bonding time between mother and child," Aguh added.
Never hold the baby without the parents' permission
The baby is adjusting to a new reality outside the mother's womb, so moving from one hand to another can cause stress for the newborn, and parents may feel uncomfortable. Ask what they prefer first.
"Family and friends may mean well, however, the last thing any new mother needs is to have well-meaning adults handling their fragile newborn, interrupting the familiarity process needing to happen," Gauss said.
If the parents want you to hold the baby, remember to avoid using strong perfumes, wash your hands first, wear a mask and don't kiss the baby, Ochoa said. The important point is to preserve the baby's health by avoiding viruses, allergies and skin irritations.
Leave out the criticisms
"I just went to a baby shower this weekend. I waited for the stories to begin: the good, the bad, the ugly, most of which would not apply to her unique situation anyway," Harris said.
Her friend, a 40-year-old, was a target for criticism, unsolicited advice and prying questions because she decided to have a baby on her own through a donor. Additionally, she previously had breast reduction and was not planning to breastfeed due to lack of milk ducts.
Moms don't need to know how to lose weight. They also don't need to hear opinions from nonprofessionals about what they're doing wrong with breastfeeding or hear how amazing a movie star looks on the cover of a magazine after giving birth.
The best gift is space
Your company, good wishes and presents are appreciated, however, parents need their time to enjoy the baby, understand the new dynamic and, especially, rest.
"Leave meals on their doorstep. Offer to do laundry and clean. Order them food, but more than anything, give them the gift of space," Gauss advised.
If you want to help, many household chores can overwhelm parents during the first few days. Ask what they need done. Perhaps they prefer the dirty laundry for a few more days, but want peace of mind to sleep when the baby sleeps.
It's fine not to visit in the first few weeks
"This close to delivery, some mothers may not be up to having any visitors, and if they do, it will preferably be very brief as although you might be excited to go see the mother and baby, visits can be really tiring," Aguh said.
"As a mom, I understand how hard it can be to say no to family members in those first few weeks when their intentions may be pure," Ochoa said. "But at the end of the day, as a parent you have to think of your baby before any family member's feelings, no matter how hard the conversation can be."