Ever been to visit a friend who’s just had a new baby? You bring dinner, because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do when someone just had a baby, and the friend might let you hold the baby (depending on whether it’s flu season or not), and you chat for a minute and you can tell she’s tired so you say you’ll be on your way. As you leave, you tell your friend to please let you know if she needs anything and she says “ok”, when the honest truth is that she probably won’t actually call to ask for help unless the house is burning down.
Well, if she’s a close enough friend she might ask for help, but chances are she won’t. For some reason when we have babies, we develop this weird idea that we can’t ask for help. We grow these little things inside us for 9 months, and when they get here, 8 pounds of joy and terror, we decide we should be able to take care of them. All by ourselves. Without calling up a friend and explaining that we didn’t sleep a wink the night before and if the baby starts crying agin for no good reason we might actually go insane.
Now I’m not knocking bringing a new mom dinner, because I certainly appreciated all the lovely meals people brought to me after I had babies. I repeat, I’m not telling you NOT to bring new moms dinner. By all means, keep it up! However, when it comes down to it, my husband can make dinner. Either one of us can call for pizza. There were other things that as a new mom I needed even more than food. Here are three ways to help a friend with a new baby that are even better than bring dinner:
First, a new mom needs a little bit of reassurance, and a little bit of company. Of course we all know it’s hard to take care of a baby, but until you’re faced with changing the crib sheets for the fourth time in one night or a baby who screams every single time you try to sit down (how can they tell whether you’re sitting or standing?), you don’t really understand quite how hard it can be. Even the simplest tasks start to require herculean efforts when you’re going on two or three hours of sleep a night. And even fairly happy babies go on crying jags that no amount of bouncing or gas drops or midnight drives can stop. Colicky babies, who can cry for hours without stopping, bring even the most positive, most determined parents to their knees. Taking care of a baby is the most wonderful privilege in the world, and it’s also hard in a different way than just about anything else is. And because we talk more about how wonderful it is than how hard it is, it’s easy to worry, when you’re a brand new mom, that you’re just not doing it right. Or that the fact you are so so frustrated this baby won’t stop crying means you don’t love it enough. Or simply that you might never sleep again. It can be lonely, too, being home all day with a newborn. This is when you need someone to say: “It’s hard. And if it feels like you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re normal. But it gets easier. You’ll make it. The baby WILL sleep, and so will you. And when you need to talk, I’m here to talk.” A phone call or visit that includes a healthy dose of reassurance is a great way to help a new mom.
Second, new moms always need more sleep. When we brought our twins home from the hospital, we were lucky enough to have lots of support from our church family. But whenever someone offered to help, I said “I’ll let you know if I need anything”, which (as we all know) is code for “I will never admit that I need anything!” It wasn’t until I got an extremely painful ear infection that ended in an ER visit that I finally broke down and asked someone to come over and help. When she showed up I was almost in tears from being so tired and she told me to go take a nap. Now, under normal circumstances, there is NO WAY I would let someone into my house to take care of my kids while I took a nap. It just seems wrong (we’re back to that “I should be able to do this all by myself” thing). But I was too exhausted to worry about it, and so she cuddled and snuggled my two little babies while chatting with my two year old, and I got some much needed sleep.
Now, many new moms will say no (like I would have) if you offer to come hold their baby so they can sleep, so do your best to get them to say yes. Call and say: “Can I please come over and hold your baby for a while? I’d love to do that.” If she says yes, set a time to come over. When you get there, let her know you have some time free and encourage her to go lay down or take a shower or read a book or whatever else she’d been wishing she had time to do. If she really doesn’t want you to come hold the baby, offer to do anything else that gives her a little extra time to sleep: fold laundry, drop off paper plates and cups so no one has to worry about washing dishes, or pick up some things at the grocery store (“I’m going to the store today; what can I pick up for you while I’m there?”). Anything you can do to give a new mom a few more hours of sleep is a huge help.
Third, mothers of newborns really (really) need someone to take their other child(ren) away for a while. During the first few weeks with a brand new baby it can feel like every single minute of your day is taken up caring for him or her. And if you have a 2 year old as well, who is used to being your sole concern, things can get kind of hairy. Your older child doesn’t understand why you’re not giving her the attention you usually do, and you start to feel guilty when she asks to go to the park and you don’t want to take the baby out of the house or she asks you to play dolls with her the minute the baby finally falls asleep and you can barely keep your eyes open. So having someone else offer to take that older child (or children) for a few hours can be a life saver. When I had the twins, a friend from church called to say she was going to pick up my 2 year old and take him to her house to play with her kids for a few hours, and it was absolutely the best thing she could have done for me. I got a chance to focus just on the babies and have a quick nap while they slept without feeling bad for neglecting my older son. When a friend has a new baby, offering to take her other kids for a while may be the very best help you can give her.
So next time a friend or acquaintance has a new baby, don’t feel like dropping off dinner is the only thing you can do for her. Give her some reassurance or keep her company for a while, do what you can to help her find more time to sleep, or take her other children for a few hours. She’ll appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.
And, for you new moms, next time someone offers to help, JUST SAY YES! It’s even ok to ask for help when no one has offered. We all get busy, and there are times we forget to offer help, but chances are there’s someone around you who would love to help out with a new baby if asked. And remember, you will sleep again. I promise 🙂