Updated: Sep 25
So, you're expecting a baby. You've made your announcement and participated in the gender reveal. You've completed your registry. You've taken a childbirth class and a CPR workshop. You've painted the nursery and assembled the crib. You've read all about what size fruit your baby is week by week. Baby is closer than ever before. You're all set.
One night, when you're about 39 weeks pregnant, you leap out of a dream and realize that you're pretty positive your aunt is going to want to kiss the baby. And that your sister is going to want to stay for a week. And she's somewhat 'less' tidy than you are. And your dog is going to still need a walk every day - twice a day! And you're not sure you'll have the bandwidth to keep the house clean after birth and while feeling so exhausted (your friends have said this will be a thing - the exhaustion). You shake your partner awake in a panic shouting, "We cannot let Aunt Jean kiss the baby! He'll contract RSV! We cannot let my sister stay here! She's a slob! How do we handle this all on our own, though!?" They rub their eyes and tell you that you have incredibly valid points and that even though it's 3am, they completely hear what you're saying. "In the morning", they say, "we'll text the postpartum doula and ask her how to help us establish these boundaries and how to ask for help." You sigh. You kiss your honey. You lie down to drift back into your dream. Wait, first you have to pee.
But, seriously, setting boundaries around the health of you and your baby, what you need and don't need, what you want and don't want, and how to elicit help (the helpful kind) can be hard. All of these things are just as important, if not more so, than the color of the walls in the nursery (though I know that just makes you happy so that matters too.
So, how do you do it? Well, sometimes I suggest clients enlist the help of their doctor to set some the ground rules. Like, when is it safe for baby to be around more people? Doctors would typically say about 8 weeks. Use this to your advantage. Sorry, Aunt Jean, no kissing the baby. Doctor's orders.
Ask your doula or friends who've recently had babies for thoughts on how family and friends can be helpful. Sometimes these can be challenging conversations, but they are your prerogative, and they are necessary for a more comfortable postpartum experience.
Here are some ways that you can enlist family and friends to REALLY help. They can:
O my goodness. You grew a whole person. You gave birth to a whole person. You are now a parent (a whole new person). And you might be feeding a whole person from your whole person. That's a LOT! No wonder you're starving all the time.
After the physical demands of childbirth, nourishing food becomes essential to replenish and restore the body's strength and energy.
Ask for or accept offerings of meals. New parents often find themselves exhausted and overwhelmed. Having a meal prepared by a friend, loved one or doula can be incredibly comforting. It provides nourishment during a time when all of your focus is on your new baby, and it can also be a reminder that you are not alone on this journey.
Also? Ask them to bring food regularly. You have to eat every day, after all.
RESPECT YOUR BOUNDARIES
It's essential that your community offer support and assistance when you need it, while also honoring your need for privacy and space as you adjust to your new roles. These boundaries can look like whatever is comfortable for you and your partner. This is a great conversation to have together to figure out what you each feel you'll want or need during postpartum.
GIVE THE GIFT OF SUPPORT
If your family isn't close by, giving the gift of support in the form of a postpartum doula, prenatal newborn class or membership to a new parent group can be so very helpful. These might not be things you'd get for yourself (although I hope you do!) and if family is unable to help in person, a wonderful way to help is to gift it. Send them some ideas. Add support to your registry.
LEND A HELPING HAND
When family, friends or neighbors "visit", they should "leave it better than they found it". This means a visit is not just a visit and maybe it's not a visit at all. Instead, visitors can fold a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher or clean all of the bottles and pump parts. Also? Ask that they keep visits short and sweet. Come on in, complete a task, heat the meal they brought, tell you how much they love you and that's it!
Also, friends, family and neighbors do NOT need to hold the baby. It's OKAY to politely say no thank you. It's natural for you to be protective of and feel a need to be with your baby all the time. However, don't misunderstand. If YOU need a break from baby, there's probably a lineup of folks eager to hold them.
CHECK IN OFTEN BUT DON'T EXPECT REGULAR RESPONSES
Let your family and friends know you'd love to hear from them and that you really do appreciate that they care. Also, let them know that during this time you may not get back to them right away, but you still absolutely welcome the love and encouragement.
Oh. And food. Did I mention the bringing of all the food?
I've got your New Family Needs covered.
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