Baby is coming! And so are the visitors. It is my personal belief that no one should visit a new parent and baby unless they intend to make themselves useful and supportive. That is the price of cuddling the newborn.
Let’s face it, a mother who has recently given birth has just done an enormous amount of physical work, and continues to sustain a new life from the strength of her own body. She is often still bleeding (this can go on for weeks, but taking it easy can help it stop sooner), producing truckloads of milk as mom and baby sort out supply and demand, healing from whatever happened as the baby made its way toward the light of day, and handling colossal hormone shifts that can send a person reeling.
The last thing a new parent needs is a clingy visitor who has no initiative when it comes to getting food together (from scratch or from Uber Eats!), helping with the wash, and picking up the house. If there are siblings around, then visitors should also be prepared for trips to the park, the movies, anywhere to give mom and partner some quiet time to nap or get to know the new one.
The postpartum period has long been viewed as a sensitive, even sacred time. A 2007 study from the University of Toronto looked at traditional practices in 20 different countries, and found many commonalities across cultures. Among these were organized support for the mother, periods of rest, specific foods to be eaten or prohibited, and hygiene practices.
In many places, a time period in which the new mother is ‘mothered’ by her family and extended family or even elders or younger girls in the community was common in traditional practices. These rituals were often disrupted by migration to different countries or urban centers. It is true that modern women often feel pressure to get right back to work and life as “normal.”
Nonetheless, the transition to parenthood is an immense undertaking. Carving out time and space to focus just on recovery and care for mom and baby is essential. Being intentional about choosing and inviting the right people to be your initial support system can be of utmost importance. This might mean that new parents need to have some difficult conversations with various family members, or decide to ask visitors to stay in a hotel or an Airbnb nearby.
Perhaps talking about expectations beforehand, or thinking through specific chores to ask for help with (“would you mind helping with one load of laundry per day? Or “could you go and get take out one night?”) would help keep the extra weight of hosting off of mom. The postpartum period is a time for care, nurture, and bonding. It is a time that needs to be protected to allow space for healing and rest.
As you approach your baby’s arrival, think through how you might guard the first few weeks at least for the most caring and helpful visitors, the ones who won’t just ooh and aah over your new bundle of love, but who will be present and supportive as you experience one of the most intense transitions of your life.