It is virtually impossible to do anything other than hold your baby for the first six weeks. Especially if you are breastfeeding/chestfeeding. And double especially if you are a solo parent. I was lucky and my amazing incredible beautiful friends all gave me gold star support in those hellish early days, but not everyone I know has had the same luck. If you are visiting someone who is a new parent, here’s some tips:
1) Wash up. Wash everything up. Even if they say “don’t worry about it”. Don’t even leave a TEASPOON unwashed. Don’t be that jerk.
2) Come bearing gifts. Edible gifts. Tasty edible gifts that can be reheated easily and only require one hand to eat. They will need backup meals in their freezer too, for at least the first three months, so keep that food coming. Things that I found really useful: fruit, muffins, pizza, sandwiches, chocolate, finger food. Not so great: soups, curries, runny hot things that are hard to get safely from the bowl to your mouth without dropping it on the baby’s head.
3) Ask the new parent what needs doing. Put on/hang out a load of washing, clean their bathroom, fold some nappies, pick up some groceries.
4) Hold the baby. Preferably hold the baby somewhere away from the new parent, or even take it for a walk!, so they can actually have a moment to themselves to go to the loo, have a shower, eat with two hands, or cry.
5) Text before you come. Don’t be afraid to visit–new parents love to show their baby off! But give adequate warning.
6) Don’t stay too long. As lovely as it is to have visitors, it’s also tiring maintaining that air of normality with people from “outside”. There were times when I just needed to focus on feeding the baby (harder than you’d think), or vegetate in front of the telly. Also try to visit before 4pm, when the witching hour begins. When bub was grizzly it wasn’t much fun trying to keep bub in a sociable mood to impress all my friends with how great a child I’d produced.
7) Drop off some food on the doorstep and ring the doorbell and run away. Don’t even wait to say hi. In the early days new parents often don’t want visitors but they do need to eat.
8) Keep your advice to yourself, and suggestions to an absolute minimum. Tell them they’re doing a great job. And don’t tell them that your baby never cried/slept all the way through. No one wants to hear it.
Some of the above has been lifted from a piece my gorgeous friend Gabby wrote about caring for new parents, reprinted with permission below:
I belong to a group of about 15 of us here in Melbourne who have come through two babies together, with one more on the way. This group is mixed queer/hetero couples and singles. In 2011, when our first babe was getting ready make her landing, one friend who has the most experience with babies instigated an action plan for how we could keep the parents (who had no family except us nearby) fed with fresh nourishing meals for the first six weeks or so. It was a big hit and since then we’ve learned a couple of other practical things that have had tangible and positive effect of supporting the new parent(s) during those confronting first weeks.
The main thing we did was to make sure our mates had delicious things to eat. It’s one thing to stock someone’s freezer with enough frozen lasagna and pie to last a year, but it’s another thing to deliver fresh and nourishing food that can be eaten straight from the re-usable take-away container you deliver it in. Our resident expert clarified this difference for us very early on and set up a google spreadsheet with six weeks’ worth of dates in the first column. Once everyone got in on the email and joined the spreadsheet, all we had to do was consult our individual diaries and type in what days we could make a delivery and what we planned to deliver on those days. Some people could deliver every couple of days, others only once a fortnight – the important thing was that you committed to times that you could deliver and then followed through on it.
The night before a delivery, all you needed to do was:
Make sure you cooked something for your own lunch or dinner that the parent(s) can actually digest (e.g. gluten free if the mum is gluten free, etc)
Make extra and store it immediately in a container in the fridge
Deliver the next morning on your way to work
All of this is really easy to do. Not only can you see what everyone’s been delivering (important so you don’t accidently force your baby-soaked mama to eat quinoa salad three days in a row), you can be an awesome friend at a time that works for you (because of course everyone’s got a busy life). Friends who live nearby found it better to do the mid-week drop, whereas friends who were further away looked after the weekends.
There were a couple of things to be mindful of. We had to be careful about how we let the baby mama know we’d dropped off food. Our second baby lives in a house that has a really loud ‘sing song’ doorbell, and we all agreed not to use it. I also once did a drop at the doorstep and texted my friend that there was food for her, but she never got a chance to check her phone. At all. That day or the next. So the food was out too long and she couldn’t eat it – it had to go in the compost. We worked out that we needed to leave the food under shelter out the front in an Esky (it was early summer), or let ourselves into the kitchen around the back (being careful to be really quiet). It was also sometimes a good idea to call or text beforehand and ask if there’s anything they needed from the shops. Alternatively, if we knew our mates love soy/almond/coconut/whatever milk, toilet paper and McVitties dark chocolate digestives, we just put some supplies in our basket whenever we did a shop and added them to the meal delivery.
If we did let ourselves in, it was always appreciated if we made ourselves useful for five minutes. Sometimes it’s a bad time to visit, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Put the kettle on, make a cuppa for everyone, do the dishes, tidy up. This kind of thing might not be welcomed by all new parents, but also many people don’t like asking for help and sometimes it’s just nice to feel looked after. This morning I also asked our first baby (now four and half years old) what kind of things she’d do to help a friend who just had a baby. She said, “well, first of all you have to feed the baby…and babies don’t like their mother talking. So you should give the mother something they want [without them having to ask for it]”. So basically, don’t talk to the mother when you visit, unless she wants to, because she’s too busy feeding the baby. Feed her instead.
Anyway, those are the main things we did. The online spreadsheet has also had a second life for organising babysitting sessions as our babies grew older, e.g. every second Sunday we scheduled a couple or a friend to look after the bub for a couple of hours at a stretch. Understandably, the experienced parents are better at doing the baby stuff now, but this way everyone has learned how to offer some good support.