On Monday nights after I tuck my son into bed after 2349 stories, my neighbors and I get together, snuggle up on my couch, catch up about our day, and watch the Bachelor. Yes, we’re totes millennials. Somehow, we got talking about motherhood and new mamas with newborns, and the first thing that came out of my mouth when one of my girlfriends was talking about going to visit her friend and her new little bundle was, “When you went to visit her, I hope you brought her a sandwich and didn’t just hold the baby!” They laughed, blushed, and I said, “No, seriously! She just birthed that sweet little baby and probably still wants to snuggle up with her; bring that mama some food, do a load of laundry, empty her dishwasher, ask how SHE is going, andddd give baby snugs…that’s what new moms really need.” It may have come off a little direct, but that was my #momlife real-life “filter” for you. So, then I was nostalgic of my own days as a doe-eyed mama with a newborn and went down memory lane of what a newly postpartum mama really needs in regards to love and support…and it’s much more than just a visit from friends and family coming over to just “meet the baby.”
1. Ask Mama how SHE is doing. and mean it. New moms are often “forgotten” about during the newborn stage, as all eyes are on the baby (and we can’t blame that, because we know how much we all just want to snuggle up with sweet baby cheeks and rolls and “eat them up!”) But, Mama needs you now more than ever. Give her a hug, some love, and a massive amount of support; just by being present and asking a few simple phrases like “How are you doing, really?” “Are you holding up okay?” “What do I need?” “What can I do to help and support you?” can go a long way. Especially if you think mama is showing any signs of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Be there for her. Your presence (and genuine care for her well-being is priceless, and means so much more than you may realize.)
2. Don’t come over to just hold the baby to “help.” Do moms need and appreciate a baby-pass-off to shower, shave their legs, or eat a meal with two hands? Oh hell yes. BUT, the first couple weeks after getting home from the hospital can be REALLY overwhelming with visits by friends and family popping in and out of the house (Which, P.S., don’t ever do unannounced!). I know I would have never in a million years actually admitted to needing help with the small things (because, you know, as a new mom, you’re supposed to turn into Wonder Woman overnight, aren’t you?!). Don’t even offer - just do….when you’re over to meet and love on the new baby, also love up on mama in ways that are actually really, really helpful.
3. Building off #2, when you come over to meet a new baby, bring Mama food; especially if she’s breastfeeding, she will almost always be starving. Something hearty, like a sandwich, a salad with protein, a freezer meal she can pop in the oven for dinner…anything that takes virtually no effort. New moms are breastfeeding or making 239487 bottles, totally lacking sleep, and haven’t figured out how to multi-task without octopus arms yet (like, how have we not evolved to have those yet?!), so they’re always hungry. Feed her. Even if she says she’s not hungry (because even if she just ate, she will probably be hungry again in like 20 minutes - or ready for a nap).
4. Remember, mama and baby need rest. I know for a fact there were days where I wanted to lock my door and hide from everyone so I could snuggle up with my babe and not share him with anyone for like, even just 5 minutes. It felt like my front door was a revolving whirlwind, like one of those gates at the zoo or old baseball stadiums. I just wanted some rest and quiet-time to lay with my breastfeeding boobs leaking in peace, and not have to worry about brushing my hair (or my teeth) for a visitor.
5. Do the chores. All of them. It’s no secret husbands or partners may be a bit clueless sometimes as to how much work actually goes into maintaining a household. Even if Mama’s hubs does a lot around the house, remember he’s going to be exhausted and overwhelmed, too. Go grab a pile of laundry you see lying around and throw it in the washing machine, or check if there’s anything in the wash that needs to be switched over to the dryer or hung on the line. Check to see if there are dishes in the sink and just do them, without asking. Or unload the dishwasher. Vacuum or sweep the floor. Remember that Mama is still recovering from pushing a baby out, or getting half her body cut open via c-section. C-section healing is brutal, so vacuuming or doing anything that requires a bit of movement is impossible for the first 6 weeks. (Hint: Didn’t get a baby present yet? Get a group of friends to go in on a Roomba!) Or better yet, can you all pitch in to help her get her house professionally cleaned?
6. Does Mama have a dog? (If not, skip to #7…) Take Fido on a walk around the block, even if it’s just 5 minutes for pup to get some exercise, blow off some steam, and get out of the house (and her hair for a bit!) Check the yard for land-mines, picking them up if you see any. When my son was born, my ex-husband left for a work trip when Tanner was just 2 weeks old. Thankfully, my mom was still there for another week, but when she was gone and his works trips became what felt like forever, I actually hired a dog poop service…no, seriously, called Poop 911. There really is a business for everything! It was pretty pricey, so we paid for them to come every other week. There was still tons of shit in the yard, but two dogs and a baby made that my last priority (disgusting, I know). I remember it always meant the world to me when my parents would come visit and help me pick up the dog poop!
7. Like I said in #3, Mama needs to EAT! Does her partner travel for work leaving her home alone often? Does she not have family nearby? Is she a single mama? Is this her second, third, fourth (you get the gist…) baby and Dad is busy wrangling them? All those factors make it extremely difficult to do it all when it comes to cooking, shopping, or meal prepping. Think about setting up a meal train between those who know her, order her grocery delivery, go grocery shopping for her, or come over and help prep a few easy grab-n-go snacks and meals. They say food is the way to a man’s heart…but whoever said that clearly didn’t know a postpartum mama in the trenches of early days (and months) of motherhood.
8. To not feel left out. Every mom I know has gone through this….your friends are all so excited you’re the first one to be pregnant, and over the moon to meet your little bundle of joy. But soon, they see that having a baby is A LOT. Mama can’t really get out to go to happy hour, book club, or meet up after you’re off work. Because she’s effing EXHAUSTED. The worst thing you can do to a new mom is make her feel left out. Although she may never be able to make a happy hour for like the first six months, don’t stop inviting her. Especially if you don’t have kids yet, you won’t realize it is incredible emotional and frightening to leave your baby with ANYONE - even your own mother. So, be gentle on her. Try to put yourself in her shoes. It may be easy to say “Get a sitter!” But, it’s terrifying for a new mom to do so. Be patient - she will come back to you, it just takes time to get out of the newborn fog and new mama anxiety. (But if she’s displaying signs of postpartum anxiety, this is a medical condition that also needs patience and understanding. Encourage her to go talk to her doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, etc., to get help.)
9. If Mama has other kids, now is the time she could really use your help. Do your toddlers go to the same pre-school? Offer to pick up her older munchkin and drop them off to her house after school, or keep them over for dinner for a bit so she has even more of a break, time to rest, time to enjoy her newborn, etc. Does she seemed overwhelmed on a Saturday? If you’re headed to the park or out and about, offer to bring her other child(ren) with you, even if you can only handle an hour. I get it, dealing with other kids among your own is a headache and pain in the ass. But best friends help mamas in need, and that’s a really great way to help entertain your kids as well - the more toddlers to entertain one another, the better. (I mean, in moderation, obviously).
10. Encourage her to join a mama group. I used MeetUp.com as my outlet and it was amazing. There’s a group of us that still get together with our kids for playdates, moms’ nights out, happy hour, recreational activities, and more. We have a group text thread that goes off 23987 a day. They are basically the mom version of WebMD and Google. Beyond the physical get-togethers, the support has been essential to my survival as a mom, and especially as a single mama. If she’s not up for putting herself out on a limb to meet total strangers (which, I totally get), ask if she’d be up for a mama’s night in at her house where a few of her closest girlfriends come over and just…do nothing. In the comfort of her own home, where she can still lay around in PJs, nurse her newborn, and not have to “try.” Have all the other gals take care of the entertainment - bring over a movie, some snacks, dinner, drinks, etc. Just being there for her, talking to adults, and having wine, kombucha, or even just a cold glass of water she didn’t have to pour herself will help remind her that she is still a human being outside of being a new mom.
BONUS # 11. Remember that the journey into motherhood is exciting, but it’s also really scary, overwhelming, and exhausting. Once you’re a mom, you’re entered into this secret society, where moms have to figure out how to raise these babies the best they know how. There will always be differing opinions among moms as to what is “right” and what is “wrong” (cue all the parenting debates.) And there will always be people who are totally ignorant and clueless to each new mom’s situation. But, one thing that we’ll always have in common as women is the heart to want to help other women - especially a new mom. So, next time your friend has a baby and is the “new mom” in your circle, remember this list and how she will literally love you forever times infinity if you do one, a few, or all of these things. It truly takes a village to raise babies into kids, and kids into teens, and teens into adults.
Be present, and never stop offering your support and love, in whatever way you can. Moral of the story: do what you can, where you are, with what you have.
There are countless ways to help a new mom postpartum, and most of them don’t cost a thing besides your love and support.
Moms, what would you add to this list? What did you really need as a new mom?
Written by Shelley Hopper; mama to a babe living where the air is salty and life is sweet & wanderlusting through mom-life. Lover of charcuterie board making, buttery chardonnay, advocating about Endometriosis, and writing about modern mamahood.
This post was originally published on the HuffPost Contributor platform.