For a new parent, trying to care for a newborn, especially if there are older children, while still recovering from the birth of baby, feeding around the clock, and dealing with the ups and downs of postpartum hormones, is not an easy task. Every baby's new arrival presents different challenges, so whether it's the adoption of an older baby, the birth of a newborn, or even the loss where you come home without your baby, the one thing that is true of all is that there is a big adjustment. One that requires more than, "let me know how I can help."
Here are the dos and don’ts for supporting new parents--things you can do.
Send a text that says “Congrats! Let me know what you need! Hugs." This puts more work on the new parent to figure out what to ask you for and to actually ask. You can instead say, "I'm planning to do ____(pick something off the list below), is there anything I should know to adjust (for timing, diet, etc)."
This really is the most helpful thing you can do for a new parent. A baby needs to feed approximately 53 times a day, and there’s no way they can feed themselves, a partner, or anyone else in the family without serious help. Everyone needs to eat, don’t ask if you should bring over dinner. Just. Bring. It.
What food do you bring? Glad you asked. Here’s a list:
No one said you had to do it alone. If you’re not good at the food part but have a knack for rallying people and organizing calendars, this is your go-to way to support your friend.
When you get the go-ahead to come over, offer to hold the baby so your friend can take a nice long bath, drink a glass of wine, or simply sleep. Some new parents don’t want to hand their babies off, even to their closest friends. But if you’re lucky enough to hold the sweet babe, it’s a perfect time to insist that they take a break and do whatever fills them, physically, mentally, or spiritually before you leave (make sure to also take in that precious newborn smell).
And don’t ask, just do. Look around: wash the dishes, tidy-up, do a load of laundry, check the mail, charge phones, set up or re-supply the areas where the baby is the most.
If you’re running to the store, or will already be out running errands, ask the new parents if you can pick up a few things. You could also ask for a shopping list and make a special trip to pick up groceries or other supplies just for them. It’s so nice not to worry about running errands with a new baby, and other kids in tow. Or, ask if you can hang out with the kids for a little bit while your friend runs to the store. Getting out of the house alone, even for a half-hour grocery run, can feel like a luxury.
When you’re together, ask for their phone and get a photo of your friend with the baby, or a picture of the baby feeding, a moment that might not be posed or scripted.
Except maybe not your breast pump, because as a first-time parent, they’ve read all-the-books and have learned that experts recommend you never, ever share breast pumps for gross and scary reasons. They’ll feel like a jerk for turning you down. But you should absolutely give your pricey brand-name glider and Ergo carrier or Swaddle Me Organic. Bring over the boutique onesie collection that costs more than the hospital stay. But maybe hold off on bringing yet another pack of receiving blankets. What the heck are those things for, exactly?
Ask how they’re doing and then just listen. Don’t compare your situation or bring up anything about you. Just listen and affirm. New parents can feel like they have no idea what the hell they are doing. Postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety may also be a factor. Bonding with the baby might be different or more difficult than they hoped. Maybe all they can think about is if their undercarriage is ruined forever or how big the surgical birth scar will be. Don’t assume that it’s a completely blissed out time. (Maybe it is! That’s totally awesome. And you should always, absolutely gush about how great the baby is.) Open the door to sharing – it’s up to your friend to walk through it.
New parents can get lots of love in the first month or so, but things can be hard four or six months later too, and it’s nice to have a friend to talk to or spend time with. Also, respectfully insist on a night out. Help plan for a trusted sitter. Go out somewhere, anywhere–away from kids, and have fun. Time without kids, even a short time, makes great parents even more amazing.
Becoming a parent is one of the biggest occasions and transitions a person experiences. One of the most complicated versions of becoming a parent is by loss. If you have a friend who’s had a late-term loss, stillborn or loss shortly after birth, they still have a postpartum period and need support and care. Here are three things you can do for new parents that don’t get to take their baby home.
Bring food, listen, sit in silence, let them express anger, fear, depression all with an open heart. Offer to help them transition their house in whatever way makes sense to them. Maybe they want to preserve the baby’s room, maybe they need someone to be with them as they enter the vacant room. Using the baby’s name is important. They were a beautiful sweet life and parents can find it healing to hear and speak their baby’s name. Follow their lead and lead when they need you. Ebb with their grief.
This is so important in the days and weeks after they head home. And also at important milestones, going back to work, and other transitions. Mark your calendar for the days leading up to the 1 year birthday and check-in then.
A bereavement doula is a professional that knows the terrain of this journey and can help with everything from emotional support to details and painful logistics.
Being a friend and a support for the new parents you know can happen by doing some pretty simple things. But even the smallest bit of help or gesture or gift can make a world of difference.
A postpartum grocery run can seem insurmountable, but it’s just a ten minute stop for you. A baby swing that’s been sitting in your basement might be an extra clothes rack right now, but it could mean an hour of quiet for your friend. And even just a signal to them that they are not alone.
And your presence is the best “do“ on this list. Being there, sharing that moment and letting a tired, emotion adjusting, new parent know that you care and they’re worth every bit of time, energy, and love.
We’d love your input on what things you’ve done for the new parents in your lives or what friends and family have done for you that was meaningful or extraordinary. Leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.