How to Love Mom: Two Words at a Time

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Beth Shelton Hayes, LMSW, Certified Postpartum Doula

Beth Shelton Hayes, LMSW, Certified Postpartum Doula

Over the last week, I’ve spent a lot of time helping some of my therapy clients process the days immediately following the birth of their child. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to start work with a new postpartum doula client with a visit to her in her hospital room. Their experiences mirrored each other in so many unfortunate ways. 

I also just learned of this fantastic concept “B.L.U.F.-Bottom Line Up Front”

Here it is-here’s the bottom line. How you treat a new mom matters. It matters for a long time. She will remember those that are kind to her. She will remember those that are not. New babies are really cute, they’re soft and squishy, and they smell delicious. That’s great. I get it. New babies are awesome. But, they are NOT an excuse for you to act like a jerk. Your behavior is really important.

To help us all be better new baby visitors and helpers, I’ve made a few suggestions, and tried to summarize them in two word phrases so they’ll be easy to remember. Here they are in no particular order:

Be Quiet

New moms are overwhelmed. They haven’t slept well in days. They’ve just given birth to a human being. Their bottoms are sore. Their boobs are sore. It’s likely they haven’t had a shower since, well, who knows? They are sensitive to, maybe everything. And most likely, what they really want to do is sit quietly with their new little person and just be quiet. They might not want to get involved in a conversation about anything other than how perfect, adorable, wonderful, amazing, cute, gorgeous, sweet, darling, or incredible their baby is. Support her by being quiet.

Here’s the best part about being quiet when you’re spending time with a new mom; the intense power of an oxytocin filled room feels like heaven (to me). There’s no other love like a new mom and a new baby. It’s perfect. It’s calm. And if you’re quiet, you get to hang out in its warmth for a bit. 

_MG_0217aSlow Down

L&D nurses, Lactation consultants, Birth people-I’m talking to you. Slow Down. When you are giving instructions, advice, or support to a new mom, speak slowly and concisely. Meet her at her level. Repeat what you really want her to know. She’s tired and overwhelmed and probably isn’t hearing what you’re saying. I saw this happen last night. A well-meaning nurse fired off breastfeeding advice to my new client like a machine gun. Even in a professional capacity, I was completely overwhelmed. Her advice was pretty good, but my client didn’t hear any of it (I asked her). And, when my client goes home, she won’t remember what this well-meaning machine gun nurse said to her about engorgement, positioning, or latch. Thankfully, this mom has a postpartum doula to help her navigate the early days of breastfeeding. Just for giggles though, assume mom doesn’t have paid, objective, expert advice coming to her living room to help with the early weeks of parenthood. Assume instead that you are the only person who will give her advice, and do so slowly. Which leads me to my next suggestion,

Watch Mom

As a postpartum doula, I encourage new parents to watch for baby’s cues and to learn them. Babies tell us when they’re hungry, wet, sleepy, they’re pretty good communicators really. So are new moms. But, here’s the thing, most new moms aren’t likely to verbalize their needs, wants or fears to most new mom visitors. It’s up to you to learn mom’s cues and respond accordingly. I’ll offer you a scenario:

You have entered the room and “offered” (more like demanded) to hold the baby. Mom offers the baby to you, perhaps reluctantly. Did you notice the expression on her face? The tone of her voice? Do you notice when mom starts pacing the floor? The baby starts crying, and instead of watching mom for HER cues, you want to try and soothe the baby. I get that. Babies are super cute, and soothing one feels like a super-power. But, what is mom saying to you? It might really suck to read this, but this is not about you. Watch mom. If she appears to be even the slightest bit uncomfortable, I promise you ARE NOT doing her a favor by withholding the baby from her. You might think yourself noble and kind, but it’s more likely that mom is screaming “GIVE ME BACK MY BABY!!!!!” on the inside, and isn’t comfortable saying so. Watch mom. Seriously.

Be Nice / Don’t Judge

OMG this is a hard one. Like, really really really hard. It is. But try it, okay? Unsolicited advice is not nice. Telling a new mom that what she’s doing isn’t right based solely on the fact that you didn’t (or wouldn’t) do it that way, is not nice. Judging a new mom’s decisions because you aren’t comfortable with them is not nice. It just isn’t. I know you are coming from a good place, at least I hope you are. But telling a new mom her choices are weird/wrong/strange/whatever is just not nice. 

It’s a simple “do unto others” concept. Odds are good you don’t want people you love, or total strangers at the grocery store, thrusting their opinion on you for no good reason. Odds are good, when someone you love tells you that your food choices are bad, or your shirt is ugly, especially if you didn’t ask, it hurts your feelings. Why on earth would you treat a new mom (or dad) any differently? New parents need to feel empowered. They need to feel that they don’t suck at this job. And when you aren’t nice, and you make them feel like they aren’t making good choices, you aren’t encouraging them to feel like they don’t suck. Which brings us to this…

_MG_7822aAsk Her

Ask mom’s permission for everything. I mean it. EV-ER-REE-THING. “Can I help you sit up a bit?” “Would you like me to hold the baby for a minute so you can get in a comfortable position?” “Do you want me to swaddle the baby?” “Is it ok if I suggest a way of soothing the baby to you?” 

Don’t just bust into the room, grab the baby, and shoo the parent away. ASK THEM!!! “Would it be helpful to you if I held the baby for a while?” And when the baby starts crying, for the love of all that’s good in the world, ask mom how SHE wants YOU to handle it. Don’t try to be a hero. It isn’t about you. And, if you really need it to be about you, then why not leave your visit thinking “Wow, I am so awesome! I just worked really hard to help that mom feel empowered in her choices so she can be a confident and knowledgeable parent. I am the best baby visitor ever.”?

Ask HER. Honor HER. Respect HER.

Don’t Stay

It is not a new mom’s job to entertain you, cook for you, clean up after you, or play hostess to you. It is your job to help her. Bringing a new family food is a wonderful gesture. Leaving the food on the doorstep with a kind and supportive note, is an even kinder gesture. I know you want to see that baby. Babies are so wonderful to see. But again, this isn’t about you. It’s about this new family and what they need. They need you to be helpful, or they need you to leave. And if you’re thinking “I’ll just go over there and hold the baby so she can get her dishes done”- stop. Go read this blog again, pull up your sleeves, and wash the blasted dishes yourself. 

Loving a new family is one of my favorite things to do. I’m not perfect. I can admit that freely. But, when it comes to loving a new family, listening to them, respecting their needs for quiet and support and kindness, I rock that out. I’m proud when I get referrals from past clients, because I know that means I treated them well. It means that I am a happy memory from their early weeks of parenthood, and that means everything to me.