Etiquette: Visiting a Newborn

No one really tells you how to visit a newborn. Almost no one gives consideration to how the mother feels about visitors either. The first 40 days after giving birth should be a time for rest and recovery for the mother AND the baby. Birth is hard work on both of them. All they should be doing is sleeping, cuddling and eating. Visits can be distracting, painful, stressful and just plain overwhelming for even the most social and put together of parents. BUT new babies are so darn cute you just can’t help yourself in wanting to meet them immediately, right? Well, if you’re invited, there are a few things to remember and consider when visiting someone who has just had a baby. A new mama is in protection overdrive and although she may not ask you to follow some simple rules, she is going to be thinking them. Be considerate and conscientious and always ASK before you do anything. 

The below considerations have been compiled based on my own opinions and experiences as well as the opinions and experiences of a few other Mamas.

When to visit:

  • Unless you’re grandparents or siblings of the parents, don’t even think about visiting within the first 2-3 weeks, unless you are expressly and encouragingly invited by the MAMA. It doesn’t matter if Daddy/partner said it’s ok, they’re not the one that just pushed them out of their body. Try to wait a month before visiting. But call, text, email to let them know that you are SO HAPPY that their baby has arrived and that you can’t wait to visit, when they think they are ready. 
  • Call and, if you can, speak to the mama to get a feel for how she would handle visitors. The baby doesn’t care, they aren’t even going to notice you, but that mama is stressed, tired, probably dirty, swollen in a number of places, and hungry. Even if you’re their best friend in the entire universe, your presence is likely going to stress them out a little. 
  • Do not, under any circumstances, show up unannounced. You’re in the neighbourhood? How convenient for you. Give the parents a call and see how they are feeling, whether anyone else is over and if it is an appropriate time to come. Take your time getting there so they have a chance to wash up, clean up or finish up whatever they were doing should they wish to. Ask if they would like a coffee/tea and go get that first. 
  • Ask them what the best time is for them. It’s probably not in the morning, it’s probably not in the evening. It’s likely going to be in the middle of the day and/or on the weekends. You can’t make that work? Guess you’re not visiting until you can. 
  • Have they had other visitors that day? If they have, save your visit to another day.
  • Be aware that mama might be feeding baby when you arrive. She may or may not be comfortable doing this in front of you. This is not your decision. Not comfortable seeing a nipple, ask about feeding schedules. Mama’s not comfortable with you there while she’s feeding and has decided to go upstairs? Wait. No one’s catering to you.  
  • If you are sick, have been sick in the last week, feel like you might be getting sick in a few days, do NOT visit. Babies are extremely susceptible to illness and the consequences can actually be fatal. Even your tiny cold or scratchy throat could be a major problem for that little one if they happen to catch it.

How to visit:

  • Arrive on time. Not early, not late. You may just throw mama’s schedule off if you do. 
  • Wash your damn hands. Like really wash them. Follow the CDC Guidelines. Wet, lots of soap, hot water, 30 seconds, all fingers, dry on a clean cloth. Then use hand sanitizer.
  • If you bring a gift, ask what is needed.  If you’re bringing anything that can be worn (clothes, hats, socks, etc.) buy it in a larger size. Somewhere between 3 and 9 months is always helpful. Second to that is diapers.
  • Better yet, bring a gift for the PARENTS. Healthy, homemade food is always the best gift. 
  • Don’t wear perfume or heavily scented anything. 
  • Don’t touch the baby unless invited. Don’t ask to hold the baby unless invited. Don’t pick up the baby from their crib unless invited. Don’t assume that mama wants a break from the baby in any way, shape or form. 
  • If you do get to hold the baby, do it securely. Don’t hold them with one arm, just your hands, up in the air to look at them or hold them out from your body. Watch their neck and head at all times. 
  • Don’t kiss their face, their hands, their tummies. Better yet, just do not kiss the baby.
  • Do not overstay you’re welcome. Unless you’re invited to stay longer, twenty to thirty minutes is long enough. 
  • Does mama have other children? Play with them! They are likely feeling a little left out as mama pays attention to the new baby. Your extra attention to them will be truly appreciated by everyone. This goes for furbabies too!
  • Ask how you can be helpful. Does mama need a load of laundry put to wash or folded? Can you do any ironing while you two talk? Can you wash the dishes or cook a meal? Does mama want to take a shower or a nap while you watch over the sleeping baby? (don’t bother with this last one unless your an immediate family member)

Visiting with your own children:

  • It’s always nice to have your kids meet new baby family members and friends, but remember that it’s stressful for the parents and the baby. You love your kids more than anything, of course, but that new mama is on protection overdrive and, to her, your kids are noisy, selfish, cesspools of bacteria. If you can leave them at home for the first month or two, do it. 
  • If your kids have been sick in the last week or may be getting sick in a few days, do NOT visit. Babies are extremely susceptible to illness and the consequences can actually be fatal. Even the tiniest of colds or coughs could be a major problem for that little one if they happen to catch it.
  • If you have made the decision not to vaccinate your kids, you need to make that clear to the new mama and ask them if it’s ok to visit with them. It might not be okay with her. 
  • Be sure to teach kids beforehand that they aren’t going to touch a new baby. If the baby is a few months old, and mama is okay with it, teach them “Tummy and Toes” are the appropriate places to touch the baby and that they are likely not going to hold the baby. You shouldn’t allow your kids to touch a baby’s head, face or hands. If your child is too young to understand how to be gentle, then it’s best to have them keep their distance.
  • Be aware of what your kids are doing. Don’t let them touch too many things that aren’t there’s, especially any baby items.
  • If your kids make a mess, it’s your job to clean it up. 

What to say, or NOT to say:

  • Don’t focus just on the baby. There is a new mama and a new papa there too. Ask them how they are doing and listen to what they have to say. 
  • Be aware that mama might not be able to talk about the birth, so if you ask and don’t get an answer or you get a vague answer, don’t push. If you’ve done it yourself, you can invite them to let you know if they ever want to talk about birth and motherhood in general. 
  • Don’t offer too much advice, tips or tricks. Let parents know that parenting is hard and if they ever want a second opinion on anything you’re happy to let them know what worked for you. 
  • Do not pass any judgment. Barring gross neglect or abuse, if you don’t agree with something that is being done or don’t think it’s the best option or that it will not work, keep quiet about it. Everyone parents differently and has different perspectives on what is best for their child. 
  • Don’t scare new parents with sad stories you’ve heard or your own personal negative or unfortunate experiences.

Visiting at the hospital?

  • Do you really think that’s a good idea? Unless your grandma, or mama has asked you to be there, the answer is no, it’s not a good idea. Even if mama has asked you to be there… she may just be being polite or catering to your feelings. I’m sure mama’s got more than enough support between the doctors and partner. And if you’re grandma, ask your daughter/DIL what she wants. Don’t be there uninvited. 
  • If you do get invited, follow all the same rules as above, but don’t stay more than 10-20 minutes. 
  • Don’t use mama’s washroom, find a public one. 
  • If you’re a mama-to-be and you haven’t considered what you want this time and space to look like, start doing that now and communicate your wishes to your husband very clearly so he can be the gatekeeper. 

Mamas, don’t be scared to communicate your wishes and your fears. Your family and friends should understand that this is a very special and sensitive time. This is your body, your baby, your family, your way or the highway. Almost everyone goes through this at some point or another, so don’t worry about how others are going to respond… they either get it or, hopefully, one day they will. 

Keep those babies warm!
Mama + Bebé

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