'Rules' for meeting a newborn 👶
If you're reading this or have been tagged in this, it's highly likely that you or someone you love is expecting a little one in the near future. It's a very exciting, nerve-wracking and special time, so firstly, congratulations in advance!
As a Midwife, I've seen plenty of parents in their homes in the early days. I know what an enormously positive impact it can have when visitors are helpful, but unfortunately, I have also seen what can happen when visitors make it harder for new parents. So from me to you, as a mama and as a Midwife, these are some 'rules' for meeting a newborn.
- Please don't kiss my baby. I know you've got so much love for them, and it's only natural to express that through kisses. I know they have the chubbiest cheeks you've ever seen, the tiniest little hands, and the most beautiful little button nose. I know that you might've kissed other babies in the past, and they were fine. But I also know that it only takes one kiss for well-meaning adults and other kids to transmit illness to newborns. In adults, it might only present as a cold sore. But in newborns, the Herpes Simplex Virus is life-threatening. Even if you don't get cold sores, the safest way is not to kiss babies, especially if they're not yours.
- Look to the parents first, then look to the bub. Because everyone else will come in and ask how's bub, what's their name, how much did they weigh, how are they feeding, how are they sleeping, are they smiling etc., but not many will come in, sit down and ask the most important question of all; 'how are you?'
- Wash your hands before touching or holding bub. We're all practised in this these days, so it should come as instinct. But like I said above, germs are easily spread, so having clean hands is a great start to keeping bub safe.
- Avoid posting announcements or pictures of the newest little arrival before parents do. To put it simply, it's not your news to share. Once bub has arrived, keep in mind it's always a good idea to check with parents that they're happy for you to post a pic of bub first.
- Pre-plan your visit with the parents. New parents are already juggling sleep deprivation, raging hormones, blood, leaking milk, pain from birth and trying to settle into what life looks like now. That's without even considering bub and their routine. While just dropping by might seem like it's the least stressful option, a doorbell ringing for a parent who has settled their bub into bed and just sat down on the couch for the first time since 3 am can be a big source of stress and feel like an invasion of privacy. So while I know it's well-intended, please reach out first and plan a time that suits everyone, especially if you're planning to visit them in hospital. Most of all remember, meeting a newborn is a privilege, not a right.
- On that note, it might be a good idea to send a text when you arrive instead of ringing the doorbell in case bub has just gone to sleep and everyone's been awake since 3 am.
- Bring food. It doesn't matter what it is. Bringing food over takes the pressure off the parents to feed you while you're there and gives them an excuse to sit down and eat. Some good options I've seen in the past include a fruit platter, crackers and dip, vegie sticks and dip, mud cake and berries, assorted pastries and salad wraps.
- Wait to be offered to hold to bub. A lot of parent's don't like passing bub around in the early days, particularly while establishing breastfeeding, and it can make an uncomfortable situation if they feel they have to say no. To gauge the feel, you could suggest something like, 'would you like me to hold bub while you eat your lunch?' This will usually give you an indication of if they're open to you holding bub or not. But most importantly, regardless of what they say, respect their right and choices as a parent to decide what's best for themselves and their bub.
- Be an asset, not a liability. Something you need to understand is that this isn't a normal visit. Yes, you're still a guest, but you're not the most important person in that room at this time. Instead of waiting to be offered a drink, offer to make the parents a drink. Instead of waiting for the parents to move the unfolded laundry off the lounge, do it yourself. Instead of waiting for the parents to serve you the food you brought, serve it yourself and give them a plate.
- Avoid pushing on the hard topics. For example, if you ask them, 'how was your birth?' and they simply say, 'not good', don't push for further information. Birth is traumatic for 1 in 3 mamas, and rehashing it with every person who visits them is not what they need to heal. Remember, if they want to share the details, they will, but in their own time and own way.
- Make sure you're aware of the parents' stance on the Whooping Cough vaccine prior to visiting. If they're asking all visitors to have it before meeting bub, make sure you've had it two weeks prior to meeting bub. If you're choosing not to receive the vaccine, be honest and work out another way to meet bub [such as Facetime], or another time after bub has received their 6-week vaccines, or once the parents feel comfortable.
- If bub cries, hand them back. On one of the first visits I went to as a brand new Midwife to visit a mama and her bub, the mama's mother-in-law was holding bub. Bub began showing feeding cues and eventually started crying. Instead of handing bub back to her mama, the mother-in-law walked away with bub and said, "she's just doing it for attention. If I give her back to you every time she cries, she'll become spoilt." I was shocked, and the mama was devastated. Don't be that person; at least ask if they'd like bub back.
- Talk to them about normal life. Like I said above, everyone is going to talk about everything baby related. And absolutely, they want to talk about it, but it's also nice for people to remember that they were someone before they had a bub, and that person hasn't just evaporated. It could be about family, mutual friends, work, hobbies they're interested in, what they're watching lately, anything really.
- Be well. Germs are easily spread, and what may be a just cold to you may have serious impacts on a newborn. If you're unwell, even if it's just a sniffle, postpone your visit until you're symptom-free.
- Negative opinions don't help anyone, so keep them inside. You might not agree with their baby name choice, but verbalising that doesn't help them. You might think the house looks like a cyclone has blown through, but saying that aloud doesn't help them. You might think they look like they haven't slept in a week [and they probably haven't], but telling them that's what they look like doesn't help them. In my opinion, the exception to this is if it impacts their or bub's safety. For example, you spot an unsafe sleep environment. In that case, I'd definitely encourage you to speak up but do it in an educational way and come from a place of love and concern, rather than using a judgemental approach.
- Remember priorities for them have well and truly shifted. Offering to hold bub while they take a shower, offering to hang out washing or vacuum, stacking the dishwasher. These are things they know need doing but are lower down on the priority list right now. Offering that or simply just doing it could go a lot further than you think.
- Check if they need anything before you come over. If they say nothing, depending on your relationship with them, bring some simple groceries or a home-cooked meal with you. It can be as simple as bread, milk, fruit, snacks.
- Keep visits short and avoid overstaying your welcome. Little ones need rest, and new parents do too. In my experience, after an hour is usually a good time to leave [unless you've otherwise collaboratively planned to stay for a longer period of time].
- Smokers; shower and wear clean clothes before visiting. Avoid smoking during your visit, but if you need a cigarette, throw a coat over the top while smoking, or change your shirt once coming back inside. Don't forget to wash your hands before returning.
- Consider older siblings. They're going through a big adjustment too, so don't forget to give them some love and attention as well. One of the things I appreciated most when my third bub was born was my mum taking our older two kiddies to the zoo for the day, so my husband and I could catch up on sleep when our newest little love was sleeping. Our older two had a fantastic day, and we got some much-needed rest. It could be as simple as taking them to the park for an hour or playing a game out the back with them.
- Tell them they are doing a good job. They're still learning, adjusting and dealing with what life looks like now. Parenting is tough. No one gets it right all of the time. So at a time when their hormones are going crazy, they're not sleeping properly, and everything feels hard, a "you're doing a good job", will go straight to the heart.
I'd love to know what else you'd like your family + friends to know before visiting your bub?