What New Moms Need Their Friends + Family To Know
Posted on Oct 09, 2018
Motherhood can be an exciting and challenging transformation...all at once. Seasoned mothers usually tease first-time moms about the comfort they will feel after holding their newborn in their arms post birth. What mothers may not tell you if you’re not looking for unsolicited advice, is about the sleep-deprived first few months, the challenges of nursing, and the amount of “crazy” they feel after giving birth.
In many cultures around the world, the family of a woman giving birth may have a responsibility to nurture and care for the new mother and child throughout the postpartum period. In the Bangladeshi tradition, for example, the new mother’s mother, sister, aunt, or an elder female relative stays over for 40 days to help with everything from making food to doing chores. However, in the U.S. maintaining such traditions can become challenging when not everyone has family nearby, most people are working, they don’t have space or finances to host someone for a month, or simply: there is no one who’s able to fill those shoes. This can lead to postpartum depression.
A Center for Disease Control research report on postpartum depression called, “Trends in Postpartum Depressive Symptoms — 27 States, 2004, 2008, and 2012” found that 1 in 9 women experience postpartum depression. The CDC defines postpartum depression as, “Feelings of postpartum depression are more intense and last longer than those of ‘baby blues,’ a term used to describe the worry, sadness, and tiredness many women experience after having a baby. ‘Baby blues’ symptoms typically resolve on their own within a few days.”
I personally found the journey of motherhood lonely and confusing. Although I was the oldest child of five and played a major role in raising my siblings, parenting my own children is a completely different ballpark. I learned that I needed more help than I anticipated and I wish I was able to convey this to those around me.
Here is a list of 10 things new moms would like their family, friends, and community to know:
1. I need sleep. The first few months of motherhood revolve around feeding a newborn, changing diapers and learning the habits and needs of the newborn child(ren). New moms can use help when it comes to looking after the baby, feeding the baby or diaper changing while she gets a chance to take a much-needed nap. Come over!
2. Bring Over Food. Between feeding, diaper changes and adjusting to being responsible for another life, moms are bogged down with putting dinner on the table. Although a family member may bring over food, sometimes new moms are craving something specific they can’t get to. New moms would appreciate a visit from friends with a treat such as cheesecake, a sandwich or a bowl of chilli they may really like. Some friends create a buddy system of signing up for meals and bringing over freezable meals for their mom friend. Another idea I heard was creating a neighborhood club where neighbors sign up to provide food to a family when someone is born, dies or needs the community support. It’s the little things that count.
3. I need positive reinforcement. Cheer me on! New moms get a lot of criticism. Trust me. From the time they are either pregnant, or not, or giving birth, new mothers are facing the wrath of judgment from all corners. We are simultaneously freaking out and wondering if we are doing things right. Send your friend a text of encouragement or a nice pick-me-up message and tell her she’s doing great (even if you don’t think so). Everyone can use positive reinforcement for trying their best.
4. Care about my kids. Whether you are a kid person or not, ask how my kid(s) are doing once in a while. I have a strong theory that asking someone how their kids are doing is a simple way to stay on anyone’s good side. But be prepared for a sarcastic response from the new winging-it mom. ;)
5. Offer to babysit. Really! I know way too many moms who do not get a break from parenting and have no one to watch their kids without (expensive) pay, or because they are not comfortable leaving their newborn with a stranger. For example, if your mom friend needs to go to the grocery store – it is 10 times easier and faster to get through the store without kids. Offer to do small gestures of kindness such as watch their kids when they are running errands, going on a date night or if your friend just needs a breather. Simply letting her know she has the option to drop her kids off when needed is usually enough.
6. Don’t be surprised if I choose to be a stay-at-home mom. I remember some friends asked me what I planned to do after I graduated undergrad when my child was 1-years-old. I planned to take a break and raise my child. I had my firstborn while in my last year of undergrad. I literally went to class and came straight home my first semester. The second semester was much more nuanced as I was trying to complete all the last requirements for graduation. Juggling married life, motherhood and college was no walk in the park, and I needed a break, and time to focus on my little one.
7. Don’t be surprised if I choose to return to work. I went back to work when I was pregnant with my second child and my husband and I were looking to move out of our joint family home in Detroit to accommodate our growing family. My transition to becoming a working mother of two had its own unique challenges. However, I adjusted my workload and kept treading forward. I remember getting criticism from people about being a bad mother for leaving my kids home. Know that you don’t know everyone’s reasons for going back to work. For some people, work could save them their sanity, others may need the financial security, while others may need it to afford the help of childrearing they would otherwise not have.
8. Don’t assume I’m not trying my best to raise my kids. There have been some interesting interactions between acquaintances of mine, and my kids. My kids may act up around new people. That doesn’t mean I don’t discipline my children or that they don’t know better. Children seek attention and affection, just like the rest of us. Take a minute to talk to my kids. THEN feel free to tell them nicely to calm down. If it’s the first time you’ve met them, give the kids and me the benefit of doubt. Thank you!
9. By no means are we trying to disappear. I know moms who fall off the map during the first few months of caring for a newborn. I’ve been there. I had two winter babies and did not go to social gatherings, events, or any place where I could risk my child getting sick and/or it was too much work for me to keep up with feedings in public. Friends should anticipate this change and not bash new moms for not keeping up. Rather, bring the party to her house – with permission of course. She will really appreciate it!
10. Keep gatherings kid-friendly. Even after the initial newborn phase, I struggled with when to or when not to take my kids to parties or gatherings I was invited to. I consider things like (a) How well do I know my host? (b) Can I ask the host whether or not to take my kid? (c) Will it be loud? (d) Will it be comfortable? (e) Am I going to have anyone to watch my kid for that amount of time? (f) Does my child need to be nursed during that period of time? (Note: Not all babies take the bottle).
While I understand the discussion surrounding the leave the kids home and enjoy your time, not all mothers are able to leave their kids behind. In fact, many moms cannot go to gatherings if they don’t take their kids. Therefore consider keeping a few crafts on hand for any children that must come. Coloring books and a few dollar store toys go a long way. I have even asked mothers to bring toys or crafts with them if I am having a gathering with kids.
After having three kids, I no longer feel obligated to not take my kids or to attend a gathering if I do not feel comfortable (or cannot leave my kids behind). The key is not to make the mother feel guilty for bringing her kids if she has to bring them (even if no one else has kids there).
It is also worth noting, it is usually easier to find a babysitter for older children than for younger ones. Hosts can make an age limit for kids, if any, are allowed. At some events I attended, professional and personal, a babysitter was provided by the host. I’ve also skipped events and parties where I cannot bring my children. It is great to have the option to bring them. Trust me, the majority of moms wouldn’t bring their kids with them if they didn’t have to (see point #5). Being a mother is a major part of their identity and responsibility which they cannot always strip and leave behind. Be courteous – it goes a long way!
P.S. At an event, it’s always nice to offer to grab food or watch the kids while the mom grabs her food. Any small gesture is much appreciated!
Nargis Hakim Rahman is a Bangladeshi American Muslim writer and a mother of three kids. Nargis graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, and a psychology minor. Nargis is passionate about community journalism in the Greater Detroit area. She hopes to give American Muslims and minorities a voice in the press. Nargis is a fellow for the Feet in 2 Worlds Fellowship/WDET 101.9 FM. She writes for The Muslim Observer, Brown Girl Magazine and Metro Detroit Mommy.