Having a baby is an overwhelming, emotional experience. The realization that this tiny and fragile being is completely dependent on you—paired with the physical exhaustion and recovery of delivery, rapid hormonal changes, and sleep deprivation—can be a challenge for any new mother. In recognition of these challenges, many cultures have adapted traditions and rituals for a mother to rest and recuperate in order to focus solely on bonding with her new baby.
In Hispanic cultures, la cuarentena, a period of approximately 40-days where the new mom abstains from sex, eats only approved foods and is mandated to rest in order to nurse, take care of her baby and herself. During this time, other members of the family pitch in to cook, clean and watch older children. In China, there is a 30-day period of confinement or “the sitting month” after a child is born. During this time, a new mother does not leave the house so that she can recover from childbirth. The period usually includes traditional health beliefs, rituals, and practices, including eating bland foods and avoiding cold water to restore balance in the body. In Korean tradition, samchilil, which means 21-days, is a time for a new mother to rest and be cared for by her mother or mother-in-law. It is believed that the new mother must be cared for in order to ensure a quick recovery from birth and sufficient time to bond and adjust to motherhood. There is no housework, errands, cooking or responsibilities.
In our culture, we perpetuate the notion that women should experience a smooth and euphoric transition into motherhood. However, practices in the United States do very little to promote this. Hospital stays usually vary from 2-3 days. New mothers are not encouraged to rest or take a hiatus from household responsibilities. In fact, most are expected to resume normal activities as soon as possible, neglecting the seriousness of a woman’s physical and emotional condition after birth. A new baby brings a lot of excitement and happiness to a home, but can also bring a lot of exhaustion and distress. How can we better take care of our mothers?
It is important to “mother our mothers”—to nurture them, to anticipate their needs, to provide unconditional empathy and support—similar to the way a new mother cares for her baby. Here are ten things you can do for the new mothers in your life.
1. Check with the new mom before visiting
Call, or even better text a mom before coming over. Ask if she needs anything that you can pick up on your way over or offer to run a quick errand. Ask if you should ring the doorbell or call when you arrive in case the baby is napping. Plan your visit around mom and baby’s schedule and never drop by unannounced.
2. Don’t walk into a new mom’s house empty-handed
Bring food, supplies, and treats for mom and her family. Even if she insists that she doesn’t need anything, bring something. Home cooked meals that can be frozen and easily reheated are a great idea. Or try to schedule your visit around lunchtime, offering to bring a meal for both you and the new mom. If you bring lunch, come with all the essentials—bring napkins and utensils, even paper plates to minimize cleanup. If you drop off dinner, bring something breakfast the next day.
3. Wash your hands when you arrive
If a newborn gets sick, this can be a medical emergency. The best way to avoid illness is to practice good hygiene and hand washing. This should be the first thing that you do when you walk into the home of a new baby. Drop your things, put the food in the fridge and then wash your hands. Let the new mom know that you just sanitized, especially before asking to hold the baby.
Don’t bring illness with you. If you feel like you are coming down with something or your kid at home is sick, reschedule your visit for another time. The mom will not only understand, but also be very appreciative of your consideration.
4. Offer to help with her to-do list
Do something around the house. If you’re close with the mom, do things without having to be asked, such as cleaning the dishes, folding the laundry or taking out the garbage. If you don’t know the mom well, offer to do a specific chore around the house, such as grabbing the mail, walking or feeding a pet, or checking something off of her to do list. This is better than asking if there’s anything you can do because she’ll likely say no, out of politeness. Every mom has a long to-do list and probably has very little time to get everything done. If a mom can’t think of anything offer to look at her to-do list and then check something off.
For New Moms: Put a to-do list on the fridge. It’s a great way for you to remember what you need, but also for visitors to help check things off your list.
5. Get it yourself
If you’re visiting a new mom and she offers you something to drink, get it yourself. Sometimes on very few hours of sleep, manners aren’t at the forefront of a new mom’s mind. So, if she doesn’t offer you something and you would like something to drink, ask if you can get it yourself and offer something to her while you’re up. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this as a guest in someone’s home, come prepared with water or other essentials you may need during your visit.
6. Start a meal delivery train
Newborns eat every few hours, which leaves moms very little time for her own meal planning. By organizing a meal delivery train for a new mom and her family, she doesn’t have to ask her friends and family to prepare meals for her, and a meal train will ensure that meals are spread out over a few weeks. There are tons of services and online sign-ups to bring meals to new moms. Check out MealBaby, which is an online service that allows people to plan and organize all the details of a meal registry.
7. Ensure that visits are appreciated
You want your visit with a new mom to be appreciated so keep in mind these tips. Be respectful during your visit. Don’t stare at her breasts if she is breastfeeding in front of you. Pretend you don’t notice her child’s baby acne or birthmarks. Don’t ask questions about her labor—such as if she tore during labor, pooped during delivery or other inappropriate questions that will make her self-conscious (and that you wouldn’t want to be asked of you either). Offer to watch a movie or TV show together, sometimes just talking and entertaining can feel tiring for a new mom. Let her nap or shower while the baby is sleeping. Volunteer to take the baby for a walk in the stroller if she wants to be alone for a bit. Ask about the baby, but also make sure to ask about how mom is doing. When she answers to make sure that you are really listening, without judgment. Don’t offer any advice unless she directly asks. Keep visits brief and do not overstay your welcome.
8. Continue to extend the invitation
Invite her to social events, even though she likely can’t come. This will make her feel normal and connected to the people in her life, prior to having a baby. Also, there may be a chance that she can find childcare and participate.
If she wants people to visit but doesn’t feel up for hosting offer to be substitute host. Come over early and bring snacks and food. Clean up the house for company. Then usher visitors out when it is time to leave to ensure that no one overstays their visit.
Another way to keep moms social is to encourage her to participate in activities where she can bring her new baby, such as events at Bubbles Academy. Bubbles Academy offers classes and children’s programming, support and socialization for parents, preschool, parties and events. Check out their 4th Trimester Village, a supportive program where parents meet up weekly, connect with other moms and obtain advice from experts, all while engaging their little ones.
9. Remember that she’s still her old self
Yes, having a baby and becoming a mother is a huge life change. But she still is the same person you knew before. Find the balance in identifying her new role as a mother and also her former self. Don’t just talk about the baby. Acknowledge other things going on in her life and your life.
10. If she needs help, get her to therapy
New mothers are exhausted, distracted and overwhelmed with worry already. When a new mom experiences depression or anxiety in the postpartum period, life with a new baby can feel unimaginably difficult. The thought of going to therapy seems impossible. It is only when moms feel like they are drowning in their own misery that they reach out for help, in the hope that they can be better for their new baby and family. Experts in the field are attuned to the unique needs of the perinatal woman.
Good therapy creates a holding environment for the postpartum woman. The therapist acts as a functional caregiver for the new and overwhelmed mother. In practice, this looks like a distressed mother coming in for therapy and leaving the office feeling relieved and cared for. Of course, there is more work that goes into this technique, but the foundation comes from the idea that mothers need to be mothered too.
If you think that a new mother is struggling, offer to help her find the right therapist. For more information about therapy check out www.jamiekreitertherapy.com.
Our society does not have a standard set of practices to take care of our mothers. These tips can help the mothers in your life feel taken care of and mothered. For tips for you mom, see Part II: It Gets Better: Accepting Help as a New Mom.
Jamie Kreiter is a licensed clinical social worker and a certified perinatal mental health clinician. Jamie is the owner and founder of Jamie Kreiter & Associates Therapy, a group practice located in Lakeview-Chicago and Hyde Park. Jamie offers therapy services to adults, both individuals and couples in the Chicago-area. Jamie’s practice specializes in the treatment of maternal mental health and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. As a therapist who specializes in the treatment of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, Jamie works with women experiencing challenges across the entire reproductive life story, including infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, depression and anxiety.
Jamie is the mother of a fourth-month old daughter! As a new mother herself, Jamie understands that joys and challenges of motherhood. She stands by these tips as they were very helpful to her and her family!