People ask and tell new Moms all kinds of things. Some are well intended, some are just plain not. Before the verbal diarrhea leads you to say something snarky, or ask something nosey, please read this: Top 10 things to NEVER say to a new mom.
1. “Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?”
Sleep schedules and requirements vary drastically from one baby to the next. Some babies get by with far less sleep than others. Some babies sleep through the night from day 1, some don’t sleep more than 1 hour at a time for the first couple years of life (*ahem* I have the latter). Besides this, babies go on sleep binges and they go on sleep hiatuses. There are always other factors, such as teeth, developmental milestones, home environment, growth spurts, sickness, travel, lifestyle pace, and stimulation that affect sleep. If the baby is a sleeper one day, she may not be the next. Babies’ sleep patterns are constantly changing. Every Mom dreams of a baby who will STTN (this is the hip acronym for Sleep Through the Night), but the reality is that most do not. When you ask this question, you automatically make the Mom of that sleepless baby feel less than adequate. The Mom will maybe assume she is doing something wrong, because she has a sleepless baby. Some babies just don’t sleep, and despite all the methods, trainings and advice in the world, they really will only do it in their own time. Try to steer clear of that question about sleeping through the night, and instead offer to hold the baby while Mom takes a nap!
2. “Can I come visit?”
The experience of giving birth is a huge deal. A woman is forever changed after giving birth, and her psyche and hormonal state is fragile for especially those postpartum months. Some women experience some pretty intense mood swings. If a new Mom wants you to come and visit, she will let you know. Odds are good that the adjustment period is going to be a little while and it may be tough. She needs to experience this new life with her partner and the baby’s siblings. She needs time to hold her baby and reflect on the major life event that just happened. If you want to help her out, grab her some groceries or bring her a meal, without the expectation of coming inside to hold the baby. She may not be ready to share quite yet.
3. “Your baby looks JUST LIKE…”
This one really gets me. What ever happened to just looking at a baby and being in awe of the innocence and beauty of new life? Does she have to look like someone? What if the person you say the baby resembles is someone that the parents would not WANT her resembling? What if Aunt Gertrude is the furthest thing from “beautiful,” and you’re telling this Mom (who is already emotionally fragile) that her child looks like Aunt Gertrude?! Look at the baby and just see the beautiful sweetness, without having to compare her to someone.
4. “You look exhausted.”
OF COURSE she looks exhausted, and she is very much aware of this fact. The reality is, there is no other choice sometimes than to be absolutely exhausted. Instead of telling her she essentially looks like a pile of garbage, maybe give her a nap. Bring her a meal. Do a load of laundry. Go buy her some groceries. Moms already have postpartum self esteem issues. Looking exhausted, and being told so, doesn’t help anything. Be kind with those words that are judging a Mom’s appearance. After all, it isn’t all about her anymore, and she’s adjusting to that monumental change.
5. “So why did you have a c-section?”
I am guilty of this one, I have to say. Because I was Blessed with 2 natural and unmedicated birth experiences, doesn’t mean that all Moms have this option. I used to be legitimately curious why a c-section needed to happen, and I realized I was hurting a lot of feelings by asking the question. It isn’t our business to ask this to a new Mom. If she wants to share her birth story, she will, in time. The ultimate goal is to have a healthy baby, regardless of how that baby was brought into this world. Save those conversations for when they are brought up by the Mom.
6. “Are you vaccinating your baby?”
Not your business. This is a very personal decision for parents, and some parents would prefer people not knowing their choice to selectively vaccinate or not vaccinate at all. Leave the vaccination discussions up to the parents and the doctors. It really isn’t your place.
7. “When are you bringing the baby to our house?”
Traveling with a newborn or infant is a huge challenge. Leaving the house before 3pm is a challenge for a new Mom. Don’t expect her to bring the baby over to meet Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Pete. If they want to meet the baby, wait til Mom is ready for company, and then they can come over to visit. We took a 3 hour trip when my first daughter was less than a month old. The trip took us almost 7 hours. I just don’t recommend it. I think first time Moms feel obligated to take the baby places. Don’t put a Mom in that situation by asking, and instead let her and her partner make the decision to travel.
8. “What a chunker! or… Is the baby eating enough?”
This is possibly a new Mom’s biggest fear. Is she feeding her baby enough? Is her milk plentiful enough to exclusively sustain a human life? The baby’s weight isn’t anyone’s business but the parents’ and the doctor. Some babies are huge at birth, some aren’t. Some babies gain weight rapidly in those first months, some don’t. There is absolutely no reason to comment on a baby’s weight. Social media photos make it easy for family and friends to go commenting on your baby’s weight. If they see a double chin, or an adorable roll, they are going to comment. Some comments are light hearted, some are just irritating. Let’s leave the body image judgments off the table, and just let the Mom enjoy her precious bundle. If there is cause for concern with weight, the doctor will address it.
9. “So when do you go back to work?”
Despite America being one of the world’s great countries–it has by far, the worst parental leave options for a 1st world country (and by “worst” I mean nothing at all)–that new Mom is already counting down the days she has with her baby before she returns to work. Try not to make her think about the time she doesn’t have left, but instead, let her enjoy the precious time she does have. There’s also the possibility that maybe she isn’t planning on returning to work and is struggling with that decision. Or maybe you thought she was staying home with her baby, and it turns out that finances are forcing her return to work. Either way, this is a sensitive topic. When and if Mom is ready to talk about it, she will.
10. “Just Wait.”
I saved this for last, because I think it is the one I hear the most. Each time I hear it, it is like one more nail is being scraped on a chalkboard, with immense force. It bothers us moms, a lot! Whenever someone says “just wait” they are usually trying to one-up your situation. “Just wait til that baby walks.” Or, “Just wait until your kid is a teenager.” Or, “Just wait until your kids start fighting.” What is helpful about any of these statements? Nothing at all. It is essentially robbing a Mom of the present joy with her child, and instead, making her anxious about what the future holds. “Just wait,” is my least favorite phrase. I truly have enjoyed every age of my children. There have been challenging times so far, but even those (I have a three-nager and a sleepless infant) are amazing. I think something that would immensely help a new Mom is to encourage her to be present in the moment. Realize that every situation and every experience is just a snapshot in time. You only have the present, so live it and experience it to the fullest. Don’t encourage a new Mom to anticipate or worry about the future. It is taking all of her energy to accept this new role as Mom, introducing her beautiful miracle to the world. Let her take it day by day.
So next time you see a new Mom, ask her how she’s doing. Ask her how the family is adjusting. Ask her what would be helpful for you to do for her. Bring her a warm meal, do her grocery shopping, let her nap, or do her laundry. Be present, without judgment. If she wants your advice, she will ask for it. Becoming a mother is a life-changing and overwhelming experience on its own, even without critics, narcissists and pessimists chirping in your ear. Support, encourage, love and be present. That’s all she needs from you.