5 ways to be a great friend to a new mama…
My daughter was about 3 weeks old and we were at home alone. After the initial flurry of excitement and outpouring of love that comes from everyone when you welcome a brand new life into the world- the visitors, the cuddles, the gifts, cards, flowers and warm wishes, life had settled back into its familiar patterns and we were working out our new ‘normal’. Of course friends and family still checked in, thought of you, sent supportive texts and cooed over Instagram pictures and Facebook updates. But, inevitably, they go back to their own families, jobs and commitments. And so after 2 weeks paternity leave my husband was back at work, commuting to London and away from the house for about 14 hours a day, and my 2 year old son was at nursery. And I was, essentially, alone.
A knock at the door. There on the doorstep was one of my oldest friends clutching 2 takeaway cappuccinos (decaf for me) and some still warm brownies. As I sat down to feed (and tried not to drop too many crumbs on my daughter’s head) my friend excused herself to use the loo. A couple of minutes later I heard the clattering of plates coming from the kitchen and listened with overwhelming gratitude as she quickly and quietly unloaded the dishwasher and tidied away the remains of breakfast. She then hung out the washing (which had sat, damp and unloved, in the machine for a good 4 hours) and returned with a glass of water, knowing I would be thirsty as I fed my little girl. All in all it probably took her less than 15 minutes, but this simple act of kindness still stays with me. She didn’t ask what I needed. Instead, with minimal fuss, she just did. A busy mum herself she knew what would help, and make me feel more relaxed and able to concentrate on my baby. And so in the time it took me to drink a coffee and inhale a rather delicious salted caramel brownie she quietly achieved what I would have stressed over all day (but probably still not managed).
Sometimes a new mum will find it hard to ask for help. It doesn't come naturally to everyone. Or maybe they just don’t know what they need- they’re too busy focussing on simply getting through each day (and night), keeping a little person fed, clean and alive. So here are some ideas;
This to me is the single most practical thing you can do to help support a new mum. With all her efforts focussing on feeding her little one, what she and the rest of the family are going to eat is pretty low on the priority list. And a mass cook off is probably the last thing she wants to do if she does get a quiet moment. Drop off meals that can be warmed up with minimal washing up (and eaten one-handed if necessary). Or if cooking isn’t your thing vouchers for some posh ready meals will always be welcome (a friend treated us to vouchers from Cook when my daughter arrived in place of a newborn gift for the baby. Hands down, best present). Or why not just drop off a bag of snacks and treats so she always has something to reach for when she is feeding or stuck beneath a sleeping baby.
‘I’m going to Boots/ Sainsbury’s/ the corner shop- do you need anything?’
The open-ended offer of help (‘Let me know if there is anything I can do?’), while kind and well-intentioned, is not always the easiest for everyone to follow up on (what’s appropriate- how much help are they actually offering? Can I really ask them to do the washing up / take the dog out/ do the school run?). I know I’m not great at asking for help. I’d rather say I’m fine and struggle on (I know how ridiculous this is). But a direct offer like this puts everyone at ease. It’s easy and convenient for you, and they’re much more likely to take you up on it, reassured they aren’t putting you out.
Treat the big kids
A new baby means lots of changes when there are older siblings to consider, and I struggled juggling the needs of both my young children when my daughter arrived. Offering to take older siblings out and entertain them for an hour or two means they get the attention they are probably craving, and your friend gets the chance to bond with the new baby without feeling guilty- or rest and recharge so they’ve got more to give when their older child comes home.
Know when to leave*
I loved having adult company when I was at home with my babies in those early days. A visit gave structure to the day; something I needed to be up, showered and dressed for (ideally). But I was also running on empty, and some days maintaining a coherent conversation with another human for more than half an hour took quite a lot of effort. And I also couldn’t talk about much besides stool comparisons, nappy rash and feeding schedules, which didn’t make me the most stimulating company! When her baby is asleep, she may just want to sit and refuel in peace before the next feed, however much she is enjoying your company. Don’t take offence, she’ll be back.
*Unless you are offering to watch the baby while she naps, in which case STAY!
It’s not all about the baby
Newborns are cute; they smell good, having a snuggle just makes you feel better about life.
But remember there is someone else you came to visit as well. Most mums with new babies can feel a bit invisible as the parade of well-wishers barely make eye contact with them as they rush to sneak a peek of the new arrival. I always make a point of bringing a gift for a new mum as well as the baby when I visit for the first time, even if it is nothing more than a big old bar of Green & Blacks. But most importantly; check in with them. Listen. Ask how they’re doing- not just about the baby. Whether it’s their first baby or fourth, those early weeks postpartum are physically and emotionally exhausting, hormones are flying around all over the place and it can be a lonely and anxiety-ridden time. They may just need someone to ask them how they are.
Rebecca Thomas Seaside dweller, coffee drinker and mum of two.