Now that lockdown is easing and we can see our friends and family again, you might be getting ready to finally spend some time with your sibling, cousin or friend who has recently welcomed a new baby. Like many of us, you might be feeling a bit nervous about this new interaction or even experiencing some social anxiety about being with people face-to-face.
Many new parents are already very busy worrying about when to feed their baby next and whether they have enough clean nappies in stock; the last thing they need to worry about is what their nearest and dearest may say about their choices, their babies or their bodies. To help you avoid accidentally saying the wrong thing, we’ve rounded up the ten most commonly asked (annoying) questions and what to say instead to make sure that the new parents in your life feel supported, not disparaged.
- “You look tired!”
On average, newborns wake every 2-3 hours each night. So yes, however exhausted new parents might look, they are definitely feeling it even more. Instead of reminding them how impossible it is to function normally after a night of broken sleep, validate how they are feeling and offer, where possible, to help out with any practical tasks that they might be too absolutely exhausted to organise themselves.
- “Are you breastfeeding?”
For many new parents, the question of how to feed their new baby can be one that prompts a lot of anxiety and even shame. From problems with latching and low milk supply to allergies and even blockages in your ducts, well-meaning friends and family parroting ‘breast is best’ may indeed not be. There are so many emotional and physical reasons why a new mother may not breastfeed their baby and the best thing you can do is to support them.
- “Enjoy the newborn phase, you wait until…”
Stop right there. As well meant as these comments may be, it’s important to remember that no matter how fondly more experienced parents may look back on their first weeks of parenthood, new parents likely cannot relate. While they are dealing with nuclear nappy explosions, waking up to a tiny screaming alarm clock at all times of day and night and struggling to find a t-shirt that doesn’t smell like sour milk, this might not feel like a time to be treasured. And if it does and the magic of those newborn days is everything they have ever dreamed of, this might not be the right moment to remind them of its brevity.
- “When are you going to have another one?”
Well, definitely not right now. New Mums go through what is known as the ‘fourth trimester’ for 3-6 months after birth. During this time, her mind and body are healing and adapting to living with this new little life. For all parents, this is an intense time and they need to learn how to navigate through these changes before they even think about adding to their young family.
- “Where’s the baby?” or the classic “Is Dad babysitting?”
Something that often gets overlooked the moment a woman becomes pregnant is that she was a person before she ever started down the road to parenthood. And now that she is a mother, she still is that person. Although historically said to Mums (and followed up by the classic “is Dad babysitting?”), any new parent can be made to feel like they’re doing a bad job by this simple, often innocent, question. Instead of focusing on the baby, tell a new parent how happy you are to see them and ask them how they are, as a person not a parent.
- “Let me know if I can do anything?”
New parents are capable of amazing things but quick thinking isn’t always one of them. The inside of their brain will be filled with feeding times, sleep routines and a near constant concern for the wellbeing of their newborn baby. Parents would surely love some support but unfortunately they simply do not have the brain space to recognise or verbalise how they would like that to look. Take some of the pressure off of their shoulders by offering to do something concrete for them, such as bringing round a home cooked meal or nipping to the shops to grab them some groceries. They will be grateful to have one less decision to make that day!
- “Are you pregnant again?”
‘New Mum tum’ is a thing and no, please don’t comment on it. The internet is full of articles filled with often unhelpful ‘advice’ to help women lose their ‘mummy tummy’, which are particularly insidious for new mothers. After birth, it takes between six to eight weeks for your uterus to return to its normal shape, during which time the cells in a new mother’s body release a lot of fluids. Around this time, the belly should start to look flatter and smaller but it is important that everybody focuses more on what your body has achieved (growing a new human and giving it life), than on how it now looks.
- “Don’t worry, you’ll lose the weight”
In fact, avoid saying anything about a new mother’s body. ‘Bounce back’ culture is incredibly damaging and for many women it’s not just impractical, it’s dangerous. The number one thing that new Mums should be focusing on is the wellbeing of themselves and their baby, not whether or not they fit into a particular size of jeans. In fact, a healthy, nutrient and energy-packed diet is essential for new mums as their bodies repair and rebalance, and especially so for those who are breastfeeding.
- “You’re going to spoil them with all that affection!”
Of all the ways that parents can spoil their children, showing them regular, authentic affection simply isn’t one of them. Babies thrive off of oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, for their early development. The human brain craves stability and security and without it we cannot learn, either emotionally or intellectually. Physical affection such as hugging, cradling, carrying and snuggling encourage your baby to establish a secure attachment to you, which will help them to develop self-confidence, experience and express empathy and to build and maintain healthy social relationships as they grow up.
- “Cheer up!”
Aside from the fact that telling someone to smile has never actually made them feel better, there are many reasons why you should never tell a new parent to just cheer up. Words of support and empathy will have a far more positive effect on a new parent’s wellbeing and can provide them with a safe space to express wherever they are currently at on the rollercoaster of early parenting emotions. Postnatal depression and anxiety can affect both men and women so instead of dismissing your friend or family member’s feelings as ‘just the baby blues’ pay attention to any symptoms such as low or severe mood swings, withdrawal, irritability or insomnia.