Marianne is a mother from Scotland who is passionate about providing accurate information about breastfeeding and parenting.
Before I had a baby, I was clueless about what having a new baby would be like. The first few weeks were one of the most amazing, but also difficult, times of my life. Some visitors were more helpful than others in my exhausted state. I have to admit that, before I had a baby, as a visitor I probably fell into the not-helpful category sometimes, because I had no idea what it would be like.
Here are 15 tips for visiting parents who have a newborn and what to do and not do as as a visitor. These tips are either based on my own experience or that of other new mums I have met.
Remember, everyone is different, and birth experiences and reactions vary. Some women have traumatic birth experiences; others have an easier time and are seen running along the street a few days after (one mum I know managed this!).
A friend of mine enjoyed visitors every day once her baby was a week old. But after I gave birth, I couldn't deal with visitors apart from close family for a few weeks. Also remember, even if the mum is physically fine, it can be a challenging time mentally.
1. Never Turn Up Unannounced
Never just turn up. Ask when is convenient. If the answer is, "I'll let you know", accept that you need to wait. I only allowed close family to visit me for the first couple of weeks because I did not have energy for anyone else.
Once you have arranged a time to come, make sure you stick to it and aren't late or early.
2. Don't Overstay Your Welcome
Don't overstay your welcome. Half an hour or an hour will often be long enough. Watch out for cues from your hosts: If they are yawning and looking bleary-eyed, it's probably time to go.
3. Don't Expect to Be Waited On
Don't expect the new parents to make you tea, provide refreshments or even worse a meal. Offer to make the tea for everyone and bring round cake. Offer to cut up the cake and serve it. Wash up or at least offer to load the dishwasher before you leave.
I was slightly cross when some members of my family came to visit and allowed my partner to do all of the above, when we both felt like zombies (they cut the cake themselves because I asked them to).
4. Offer to Help With Useful Things
These are things you could offer to do that new parents may find helpful:
- Make tea
- Supermarket shop
- Bring round a meal that just needs heated up—for example, a lasagne or chicken casserole
- Other household chores
- Babysitting older siblings
My in-laws did a massive supermarket shop when we got out of the hospital, and they picked up our dirty laundry for several weeks. Both sets of grandparents brought round meals. This helped a lot in the first few weeks.
5. Don't Take the Baby Away
You might not be being helpful by taking the baby away so mum can get a break. Some new mothers have a very strong biological need to be near their baby. I certainly did. When my baby's dad and grandparent took my 5-day-old baby to the living room so I could nap, I just spent 20 minutes wide awake and very anxious listening out for him in the other room. (This changed once my hormones calmed down a little after a few weeks)
However, not everyone is the same; other mothers may be happy for a break. Just make sure you ask and don't pressurise the parents into agreeing.
6. Don't Demand to Hold the Baby
If the baby is asleep during your visit, never wake them up. It's just your bad luck. Even if the baby is awake, don't pick them up without asking. The baby is not a toy to take "turns" with.
7. Ask the Parents How They Are
Being new parents can be overwhelming. After I gave birth, I appreciated the people who actually asked me how I was and then waited and listened to my answer.
8. Don't Offer Unwanted Advice
Don’t offer parenting advice unless you have been asked for it. This is especially true if your advice is years out of date. Whatever your opinion on the parents' approach to parenting is, it is best to just keep it to yourself.
One of my friends was continuously told by some of her family to "just give the baby a bottle" when she mentioned she was tired. Firstly, bottle feeding would not have solved her being tired; secondly, breastfeeding is good for the baby and mother's health; and, most importantly, her family should keep out of it.
Another mum I know was told by her parents to put her baby to sleep on its front, even though it has been advised to put babies on their backs since the 1990s due to increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Unwanted advice is the last thing a new parent needs. It is better to offer encouragement.
9. Don't Bring Extra People
If you arrange to visit the baby, don't bring extra people without asking the hosts.
10. Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands before touching a newborn baby. Personally, I don't believe that most newborn babies are as fragile and germ-prone as some people make out, but washing your hands is basic good hygiene.
11. Don't Kiss the Baby
As a general rule, don't kiss anyone else's baby without permission. If you have permission, kiss their head and not their lips.
12. Don't Come While Ill
Even if you wash your hands and don't touch the baby, if you have a stinking cold or virus, stay away until you are recovered.
13. Don't Make Comments on the Mother's Appearance
Encouraging comments like, “You look great” or "You don't look tired" are fine. However, comments like, “When are you going to lose that stomach? You better watch what you eat” or “You have big rings under your eyes” are not. I am still annoyed at the relative who commented on my stomach and that I should watch what I ate 2 weeks after I gave birth.
14. Admire the Baby
Myself and my husband are convinced that our baby is the most beautiful, cute, amazing baby that has ever been born. It is always good when other people confirm this and say nice things about our baby.
15. Bring a Small Present
It's good to receive presents, too, not necessarily just for the baby. Some ideas for presents for the parents are:
- nice shower gel or soap for mum (maybe not bath stuff because bath products are not advised for the first few weeks postpartum)
- a promise to offer baby-sitting services so the parents can go out for a date to themselves (valid until when the parents are ready to leave their baby, which may be months away)
- offer to do laundry, bring meals, etc. when asked
- a voucher for some baby-related activities—for example, a baby-friendly cinema screening or perhaps a baby class
I also liked receiving gifts for the baby. Things I appreciated most were children's books, clothes in a bigger size (my baby grew out of newborn in a week, and I already had a lot of smaller sizes), and a crinkly cloth book that could be attached to the car seat or pram.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on November 23, 2019:
Nice article. Every mother will like these points. Thanks for posting.
blessedp on August 13, 2019:
Omg! I thought I was paranoid, but after reading your article I now know I wasn't when I had my son. Everything that you wrote about I totally agree. I didn't want no company only close and personal family members and friend.
Love your article, these are pointers everyone should take when visiting a new born child and mother.
Larry Slawson from North Carolina on August 13, 2019:
Totally agree with everything you mentioned. Good advice!
Marianne Sherret (author) from Scotland, UK on August 12, 2019:
Rtalloni - I agree about washing hands, maybe I'll rephrase it! You should always wash your hands after going to the bathroom whether or not touching a baby too!
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on August 12, 2019:
There is some good advice here for new mothers.
RTalloni on August 12, 2019:
This is one of the better guides on supporting new parents. Thank you for acknowledging helpful family members in a culture that is so prone to denigrating them no matter what.
I would add that visitors should always wash their hands before touching a baby. It is far more than polite. I agree with you that babies are hardier than some think but not washing hands after using the bathroom is a growing problem in spite of all the warnings. I just witnessed a nurse not doing it.
Liz Westwood from UK on August 12, 2019:
This is a great guide for anyone planning on visiting a newborn. There's nothing worse than a guest outstaying their welcome when all you want to do is catch up on some much needed sleep.