I felt the need to write this article on behalf of the many new mothers who I am associated with, and all new mothers out there who fall into the same category that I am about to discuss. As a childbirth educator and parenting class instructor, I spend a lot of time helping expectant parents prepare to take responsibility for their births and help them parent their children in a way that will nurture a secure attachment. These new parents have spent months learning to protect themselves and their unborn children from the harm that exists in the modern world. They will instinctively carry this protective spirit into the parenting of their children.
I would like to give you grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, neighbors, close friends, and even strangers some guidance about what many new mothers find acceptable and unacceptable as far as your behavior toward them and their babies after birth.
First of all, I recommend to all my new mothers that they give their baby a babymoon. After all, when they got married they had a honeymoon, a time when they were secluded from all others and focused only on the marriage relationship. This honeymoon often lasted days or even weeks in some cases. When a baby is born, the baby deserves the same consideration. I encourage new mothers to remain in seclusion for a period of time after birth, with this period of time being as short or as long as they deem necessary. There are a variety of reasons for this:
A newborn's immune system is very weak, and they don't need a lot of people coming in carrying germs to them. The baby needs days or even weeks to breastfeed and receive the antibodies that mother's milk provides so they can build a strong immune system before they receive visitors. Please do not be offended if the new mother you are associated with asks you not to visit the baby for a few days or weeks. I know that you are eager to meet your new grandchild if you are one of the grandparents, but you've already waited nine months to see this baby, you can wait a few more days or weeks.
If the baby was born at home, then the baby already has immunity to the germs in the maternal home because the mother passed those antibodies to the baby in-utero, and is innoculating the baby to those germs through breastfeeding. But since you do not live in the maternal home, the baby more than likely is not immune to your germs. Compound that with the fact that if the baby is born in the hospital, it has already been exposed to a whole host of virulent germs which its body is trying very desperately to defend against. Its little immune system is overtaxed already, please do not put more burden on it at this crucial time just because you cannot control your ardent desire to see that baby. This situation is even further compounded if the mother chooses to formula feed, for this compromises the immune system even further. So you see, there is good reason for you to stay away for a while.
Another good reason for you not to visit the new family is that the new mother is just learning to do her job as a parent. If this is her first child, she is just learning to breastfeed, just learning to diaper her baby properly or just learning the use of elimination timing, just learning to console her baby when it is fussy. She may not be very good at it yet, and it is twice as hard to learn a new skill when somebody is watching you. She will be nervous and will make mistakes. Please give her time to gain some confidence in her parenting abilities. The babymoon helps her to get to know her baby and herself a little better.
When you finally do talk to the new mother or see the new baby in person, please refrain from giving advice unless you are specifically asked for it by the new mother. You will build your reputation as a meddling mother or mother-in-law by always trying to tell the new mother what she is doing wrong. Let her find out for herself whether or not she needs advice, and let her ask for it. Remember, she is feeling protective of her baby and herself, and is very vulnerable. She is not sure of herself yet, and having you tell her what to do just makes her feel more inadequate.
Please do not criticize the parenting style or methods that the new parents have selected. Just because it's not the way you brought your kids up doesn't mean it's wrong, it's just different and it's not your place to change them. So the most important thing is no giving advice and no criticism.
Don't go to visit; call on the phone and ask if there is anything you can do, and abide by what the new parents say they want. Here are some things you could do to help the new parents without actually having to be in their presence:
Cook some meals for them that can be frozen and thawed later so that nobody has to worry about cooking for a while. Take these meals and stack them on the front porch of the new family's home, ring the bell, and go back to the car. Wave to them as you leave. They will appreciate this so much. Frozen dinner meals, as well as sandwiches, fruit and veggie trays, healthy beverages such as filtered water, organic milk, fruit juices, and herbal teas would be great. Then they have dinner meals as well as lunches and snacks. Breastfeeding mothers need about 600 extra calories per day just to provide milk for their babies, and lots of fluids.
Offer to help with laundry. Have them stack their dirty laundry in baskets, boxes or bags on the porch. You come and pick it up, wash dry and fold it, then return it to the porch. Make sure and use a detergent that is acceptable to the mother. Many are very environmentally conscious and want something that is not bad for the environment, and others are sensitive to certain chemicals and may have a preference for one brand or another. Babies clothes should be washed in something as mild as possible. Once again, ring the bell and return to the car, waving from a distance.
Offer to take older siblings on some outings so the house can be quiet and calm for the new mother and baby. That is, if the new family wants this service. Some like the siblings to stay around and so don't feel that this is a must. It's up to the new mother.
When you finally do see the new baby:
One thing that often irritates new mothers is that when people are allowed to see the new baby, the first thing they do is want to touch the baby. I know, babies are like magnets, it's almost impossible not to tweek that cheek or stroke that hair, or let their little fingers grab yours. That is a biological urge you are feeling, if you are a woman, and it was designed to promote attachment between you and YOUR baby. It is not meant to glue you to some other person's baby, even though you may feel it. Please resist the urge to touch the new baby. Ask the new mother first, and please don't be offended if you are told that they prefer you not touch yet.
You may be thinking, "I am this child's grandparent, and I am not even allowed to hold my own grandchild?" Precisely. This is NOT your child. Please respect the rights of the new mother and father to protect their baby. Do not discourage them. That child is going to grow and you are going to get to spend lots of time with it. Don't rush things.
Friends and strangers, later on when you see the new mother in a store or at church, please resist the urge to start stroking the baby and playing with its hands. The baby has its hands in its mouth constantly, and when you touch the baby's hands, those germs go right in the baby's mouth. I know you wouldn't intentionally pass anything to the baby, but you may never know that you accidentally were exposed to some germ when you shook hands with somebody and then went over and touched the baby's hand, and into the mouth it went. If you are in a store, your hands were probably just touching the handle of the shopping cart, and 500 other people have touched that same cart today. Do you really want the germs of 500 people in that baby's mouth?
New mothers have very strong hormones which cause them to be extremely protective of their babies. Sometimes mothers feel that people take too many liberties, touching and being too familiar when they shouldn't. Please keep your distance. This goes for pregnant women as well. Some people feel its all right to just walk up to a pregnant woman and feel her belly. This is totally unacceptable because it violates her personal space and makes her feel vulnerable. If she invites you to touch, that is different, but don't just assume that its your personal right to be able to touch.
Many mothers, especially those trying to promote secure attachment, will wear their babies in slings that hang across the shoulders. If the baby is being worn in a sling, please do not try to pull the edges of the sling back and look at the baby. The purpose of the sling is not only to carry the baby in a convenient manner that is comfortable for the mother and provides the opportunity for around the clock, on demand breastfeeding, but its purpose is also to provide the perception of protection to the mother and those who look on. The sling is an artificial boundary that the parent is trying to put between you and the baby to protect the baby. Please don't violate that boundary. You wouldn't walk up to a woman and stick your hand inside her blouse, would you? No, of course not. You recognize that this would violate her personal boundaries. Sticking your hands inside the sling to get a look at or touch the baby also violates the baby's and mother's personal boundaries as well.
I have a friend who carries her baby in the sling the whole time she is at the store. She says this about the experience:
"I also found that even WITH the sling, there were those who felt obligated to peek inside and try to stroke baby's arm, or whatever. It got to the point where I'd just walk around the grocery with the baby in the sling and my naked breast right there, even if he WASN'T nursing, so they'd reach over, pull back the sling edge, and voila, there was a boob as well as a baby. The embarrassment on their faces was enough to convince me that they would think twice before doing that to ANYONE every again. By the way, my breast is as big as a baby's head, so it was quite obvious, and made it tons easier for the babe to just turn his head and plug in whenever he wanted."
So, enough said about the boundary issue.
Some women have strong enough personalities and are confident enough to tell people that they are crossing a boundary, or to ask them in advance not to. Some women, however, don't feel comfortable about telling you that you are violating their boundaries. So I speak for those who feel unable to possibly offend you by telling you these things.
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