Supporting a New Family

Now that we all know what to expect out of a modern postpartum period, what simple things can we do when a dear friend (or family member) is close to their birth time and we want to help?  Our culture is so far beyond what biology intended that we are losing the instincts for some of the most basic functions of life.  Forget supporting a postpartum family, it is hard for people to even have a conversation if it doesn't involve a send button.

What new families really need is a face to face relationship.  We have to tip toe around postpartum support and hire people for normal life cycle functions because no one gets what a new mother and baby should be doing.

Photo courtesy of papaija2008 at Freedigitalphotos.net

If you are in that close-knit circle of friends or family with someone expecting a baby, here are a few tips.

  • Host a Blessingway.  Sure, there are showers and ladies night out, but a blessingway is a wonderful way of focusing on just mom and providing her with positive thoughts for the rest of her pregnancy, birth, and beyond.  It can be as simple or extravagant as you'd like.  Ask everyone to bring a snack, and select a bead to present to the mother for her blessing bracelet.  There are countless options but this is an amazing way to make mom feel better.
  • Make a healthy freezer meal.  Ask about the family's taste preferences (and allergy info.) and prepare a meal to stick in their freezer.  Try to include a variety of colors and wholesome choices so mom builds up her nutrients and feels great.  This freezer meal can be used as the birth date approaches, during the immediate postpartum, or after all the congratulations mellow out and the new family still needs support.  They really can't have too many freezer meals (as long as they have space) because having them last a good six weeks will let the new family focus on more important things.
  • Make a healthy fresh meal.  Nothing feels better than a fresh healthy meal.  The freezer meals are for when the family doesn't have (or want) visitors.  Fresh meals mean better nutrition and a great morale booster.  If the family is taking a babymoon, this is a nice way of stopping in to get a peak at the baby, but not bothering the family with entertaining.  Using disposable dinnerware is appropriate and often helpful.
  • 15 Minutes Max.  If you visit the new family at the hospital or at home, plan to only stay 15 minutes.  They need to rest and they don't always feel comfortable asking you to leave.
  • Do something.  Don't only come over to see the baby.  Either bring a meal with you, do the dishes, pick up the toys, find something helpful. Likely, a meal is your best option.  You can drop it by to say hi, or visit for 15 minutes.  If they want you to stay longer, they'll let you know.
  • Don't ask to hold the baby.  Baby wants to be with mommy and it can be overwhelming to have someone else's smell on them.  They get overstimulated very quickly, and we don't want to leave mom with a fussy baby.  Mom will offer if she's up for the trade off - maybe she can grab a shower or a few moments in the bed; however, sometimes we feel obligated to say yes when we're really not up for passing baby around.
  • Play with the kids.  If mom has older children, this is one of the best ways you can help her out.  You don't need to take them overnight, just simply giving mom the mental relaxation of having someone else take responsibility will give her a few moments of peace, even if that means the toddler is still coming in and out to check on mom and baby.  If you came to drop off a meal, maybe a few games of simon says or reading a few books is a great way to keep them occupied.  Pour them containers of water (the kind that don't need refilled often) and make up some healthy easy-to-grab snacks so mom doesn't have to get up when you leave.
  • Listen.  Just listen to her birth story.  You don't have to chime in with yours - let this be her time.  If it was amazing, tell her how awesome it is.  If it was scary, just console her.  If it was traumatizing, be there with love and support and offer her words of encouragement.  Ask if she'd like you to record or write down her birth story so all the details remain fresh until she has time to go back through.  If the experience was negative, understand that this is normal and OK, even if "everyone *seems* fine."  Birth is an incredible time in our life and moms need to feel OK expressing all their emotions about birth.  Postpartum depression rates are alarmingly high and moms need to feel supported and able to vent.  Help her to find at least 5 positive things about the experience without making her emotions feel like they are not justified.  Finding those 5 positive things will help her memory of the birth as she goes throughout the next weeks and years of her life.
  • Respect their space.  Some families love the company, and others want to be alone.  Many times when families want to be alone it is because they feel as though their support system does not understand the needs of a new family.  A new family can benefit from help with meals, around the house, and with older children; however, the baby is best kept with mom and dad.  Mom will be resting and nursing her baby.  She may feel uncomfortable with people in her space, and she may not want to smile and feel chipper for a few weeks.  Remember, also, that this new little blessing has a very immature immune system and it is very helpful for not spreading diseases by staying home when we're sick.  Even though a breastfeeding mother will make antibodies for her baby for everything they come into contact with, that doesn't make the baby completely untouchable.  Sometimes, breastfeeding is the comfort to a sickness and will only shorten a sickness, but doesn't always stop it completely.  We need to remember that this postpartum family needs a lot of rest and taking care of a sick baby or an older sick child while trying to heal and get breastfeeding established and work a new baby into the mix can be overwhelming.  There will be plenty of days to meet the new baby, but this time is so short for the family.  The baby is adjusting and learning who to trust and needs to be able to nuzzle mama's breasts when he feels overwhelmed.  We want this family to experience the healthiest and happiest postpartum possible and it is our job as their support system to protect that space.

What did others do for you to help you during postpartum?  Did you feel like your friends and family knew how to truly support a new family, or did their visits seem traditional?