There is nothing like visiting a new baby. The tiny feet, soft skin, and that baby smell – it’s amazing to see a fresh, new life. Of course, your loved ones will be expressively eager to meet your new baby!
Likewise, as new parents, there is something to be said about calling on your village and asking for help once a new baby arrives. It’s also lovely to connect with family and friends on the new road into parenthood, to share the joyful ups and the deep downs.
Yet, the truth is that visits do not look the same once a new baby arrives and because of this, it’s wise to talk through and create realistic expectations for your visitors. Thinking through your priorities and setting limits for visits and visitors can help preserve taxed energy (and sanity) levels and keep everyone on the same page. As new parents we should all be thinking, who do we really want visiting in the early days? For how long do we want our visitors to stay? And what do we want the visits to look like?
Here are 4 tips that can help you and your new family, as well as your visitors, navigate visits so that every one leaves with their cup filled up.
1. Help and Hospitality - define your needs
It is easy for everyone to plan visits and expect them to run as they did pre-baby. However, tiny babies rarely fit into child free experiences – naturally, they require a lot of attention and assistance. Caring for tiny humans also (rightly) get in the way of keeping on top of cleaning, cooking, sleep and self care for new parents - meaning that your living space will not be in the shape you’re used to. Empathetic visitors will understand and be more than happy to help out – people really do want to help and finding the right way to ask is key.
· Give up the role of host/ess. Accept visitors that understand your new situation, without huge expectations for the visit.
· Set up a task list. Family and friends want to help. But sometimes they need a bit of direction. Set up a list and tack it to your fridge, or pre-send it to guests so that they know what they can help with. Setting up a Google doc, with defined tasks, or a Meal Train can also help give visitors more direction.
Tasks you might want to consider suggesting to visitors could be: watching the baby while parents nap, or taking care of tidying and cleaning living areas, folding laundry, prepping, cooking or bringing groceries or food, and/or watching your other children (if you have them).
2. Hygiene, health and activity – define your expectations
Most new parents have done a slew of research into the needs of new babies and how to keep them, and their environment, healthy. While most people understand the basics, people that have older children, or no children, may need a bit of reminding.
· Wash your hands. The first thing new visitors should be doing is heading to your sink and washing their hands, before coming near you or your new baby. New babies have immature immune systems and are susceptible to germs and illness. Plus, new parents are under new stresses, including major shifts in sleep patterns, which also makes them susceptible to illness.
· Be clear on your health. Remind visitors that any one who is currently ill will need to reschedule their visit.
· No smoking. It’s standard knowledge that smoking is not good for anyone’s health. Exposure to second hand smoke is not healthy for babies. Be clear with relatives and friends that smoke that they smoking must occur outside of indoor spaces, away from open windows. You may even consider asking smokers to wash their hands (and change their clothes if they’re staying for a longer period of time) after they smoke.
· Define your terms about holding baby. The very early days are for bonding. Some mothers do not want their baby passed around and that is completely normal and to be respected. Remind visitors that they should not take the baby unless offered. Don’t be shy to ask for your baby back as soon as you feel the need.
3. Time - be honest with your limits
It’s easy to accept every offer of a visit. You want to show off your new baby and see all your loved ones! The truth is, visits take a lot of energy, so be mindful of how many you take on and how long they extend for.
· Limit the number of visits. Be strict and don’t over extend yourself. It will be different for everyone – 1 visit a day may be your max – you get to set the rules. Don’t worry about offending anyone – your health/baby’s health is both fragile and vital to nurture right now.
· Be mindful of the length of visits. Let visitors know how long they’re invited for. Remind them that the early days are a time for rest and recovery. Be clear that they are welcome back at another time if that is meaningful for everyone.
· Be realistic around the holidays. There is extra pressure around holidays to attend functions and bring a baby. Keep reminding yourself that you get to set the rules. Set your time limits or miss the event all together if you’re not up to it – there will be more holiday functions in the future!
4. Advice, wisdom and behaviour
It’s normal for family and friends to offer advice and commentaries on parenthood. It can be extremely useful to hear experienced tips. However, it’s also common to hear outdated advice or tips that do not gel with your parenting style. Knowing how to tactfully approach these situations, and letting your views be known as early as possible, can help encourage an all around respectful environment.
· Think before you speak. New parents are extra sensitive to what people say to them. The hormones, lack of sleep and huge, new responsibilities, make emotions fragile. Remind everyone (including yourself) to be more mindful of your words. Become as clear as you can prenatally, and during the early days, about your parenting decisions. You truly know yourself and your baby the best and respectfully expressing your viewpoints will set the precedent for the future of your relationships.
· You don’t need to read every offered book and materials. There is so much information out there that it is easy to get overwhelmed. You do not need to read any material that does not sit well with you. Choose to tuck the books and articles you don’t want away.
The early days and months are important times for bonding and healing. Like with any new journey and relationship, setting your expectations early on can help make sure that you lay a solid foundation for the parenting road ahead of you.
Visits do get easier as babies get bigger. They will get longer, more eventful, and you’ll feel more confident going out further from home. They’ll also get (somewhat) into a pattern of what you were used to pre-baby – although they may be always be a bit louder, messier, with smatterings of joyful chaos.