9 Tips for Visiting New Parents

A postpartum doula's guide to being a good guest

by Haley P.

I'm the kind of person who starts foaming at the mouth whenever a friend goes into labor. I start counting the potential hours until I get to meet the new baby and hug the new mom. But I have also been that new mom, bombarded with the question: "Can we come over and visit?!" before even leaving the hospital.

I know how exciting new babies are. (As a postpartum doula, I've devoted my career to them!) But I also know that being a good friend to new parents means celebrating with them in ways that help instead of add to their list of new responsibilities. So here's my guide to visiting new babies and their exhausted parents.

1. Wait for an invitation. In the weeks before the birth, let mom and dad know that you would love to help when the baby comes and that they should not to hesitate to call. Then: wait for the call. An email, Facebook message, or text is an appropriate way to let them know you're available, but don't expect a quick response, and don't be hurt if you don't get one at all. It's likely that they're overwhelmed and exhausted.

2. When the invitation comes, honor it. If your friend says Wednesday at 2pm is a good time, be there on Wednesday at 2pm. Don't make a new mom wait for you when she could otherwise be taking advantage of a spare moment to sleep or shower. And don't be late and risk interrupting a much-needed nap. When you arrive, either knock gently or text to say you are there. Don't rap hard or ring the bell in case the baby is sleeping.

3. Be healthy and clean. No sniffles, no upset stomach last night, no cigarette smoke on your clothes or hair. And please wash your hands when you arrive to save your friends having to make an awkward request.

4. Come prepared. Call, text, or email ahead of time to ask what you can pick up at the store. And if you have time to prepare a dish that can be frozen, even better! Food in disposable casserole dishes is best because new parents don't have the time to wash and return Tupperware. And if you cook them a meal in their home, also do the dishes.

5. Pitch in. Wash the dishes in the sink, wipe down the bathroom, fold baby laundry, empty the fridge of old food, or take out the garbage. Just go ahead and do these things – the parents will likely say no if you ask them. Not because they don't want you to but because they're trying to be polite.

6. Be calm, quiet, and patient. Here's the bad news: You might not get to hold the baby on your first or second visit. New moms often don't want to let anyone hold the new baby, or the baby may not tolerate it. But if you are a good guest, you will be invited back for other opportunities. It's fine to let your friend know you would love to hold baby (or are happy to do so while she hops in the shower), but don't push the issue.

7. Leave young kids at home. They can't be expected to stay quiet and keep to themselves and, of course, they bring their own uninvited guests – germs.

8. Leave. Seriously, don't stay long. Thirty minutes tops unless your friend invites you to stay longer. Make up something you have to do, and let yourself out. And if the new mom is very tired, don't stay at all – just drop off the food and go.

9. Don't give advice unless asked. I can't say this enough. And if you are asked for advice, tread lightly. New parents are getting their bearings and can only soak up so much.

A version of this post originally ran on Offbeat Families and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Haley P.

Haley P. is a postpartum doula and mother of two daughters who lives in California’s Bay Area.

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