Until not that long ago, raising a baby was the responsibility of a whole community. Still now, in some cultures, for the first 40 days after they give birth new mothers are taken care of by their extended family and friends, who ensure they are well nourished, rested, supported and nurtured whilst they recover and learn the ropes of early motherhood.
Nowadays, families not only tend to be nuclear (mum, partner – when there is one – and child/ren), but relatives and friends can live far away and lead busy lives. Add to this a global pandemic which limits (or even rules out) hands-on support and requires us/our loved ones to shield, and we find that new mothers and parents feel very alone.
Read on to learn how you, as her partner, family or friend can best help the new-born mother recover post-birth.
How does a new mother feel?
The weeks following the birth of their baby, a mother can feel drained and exhausted as her body recovers from pregnancy, labour and the birth, whilst she produces milk, feeds and cares for her newborn baby around the clock. She can feel uncomfortable and even in pain, as she grapples with a tender perineum or a C-section wound, sore nipples and, perhaps, the remains of pelvic pain.
A new mother can also feel scared, insecure, confused, helpless, guilty, anxious and low in mood, with many women feeling alone with these thoughts and emotions.
What does she need?
A newborn mother needs to feel supported both in a physical and practical way and from a psychological and emotional point of view.
Caring for a beautiful and very dependent newborn baby is often demanding and intense, so the more the support, the better rested and healthier she will be – which will translate into a happier, more nurturing mother.
In order to recover from pregnancy, labour and birth, she needs others to take care of house chores, food and any other stuff that requires time away from her baby and from resting.
She needs loved ones to be a ‘sounding board’ so she can debrief and share her experiences and emotions, and she needs to feel understood, without having to spell out what she needs.
She also needs reassurance – that she is doing great, that it will get easier and that she is loved no matter what – and someone to act as her advocate between her and the outside world.
How can you meet her needs?
- Take the morning shift if she’s been up feeding all night.
- When you get in from work, run her a bath and take baby away from her so she can have half an hour to herself.
- Order food if there are no prepped meals in the fridge.
- Do chores without being asked to.
- As soon as you see she sits down to feed baby, bring her some food and a drink.
- Look through the cupboards and fridge to see what’s missing and pop into the shops on your way back from work.
- Tell her you love her and show her you find her attractive.
- Call and text from work to check in with them, encourage her if she’s struggling and point out what how well she’s doing.
- Display a relaxed “I’ve got this” attitude, even if you have to fake it ‘til you make it! It will reassure her to see you’ve got things in hand.
- Let her unload and be emotional when you get in from work. Hold her whilst you listen without trying to ‘fix it’ and then let her have some alone time.
Don’t ask what she’s done all day - She may still be in her PJs, but chances she never got round to having lunch, let alone hot cup of tea. Kiss and cuddle her, take baby from her and send her away for a bath or a walk.
Make her daily self-care routine non-negotiable - Ensure she keeps to (at least) half hour of daily self-care, be it a bath with salts that help her to soothe and recover, a walk or an uninterrupted chat with a friend. Far from a luxury, this time for her is a necessity.
Baby-care is a shared job – It may be her day job when you’re off to work but, when you return home or on weekends, caring for baby becomes a shared job.
Be her advocate and protector
- Take charge of sending group messages with updates for friends and family so she doesn’t have to.
- If visiting is allowed, be the one who keeps visitors at bay, putting her needs before anyone else’s.
- Make sure anyone who comes in is Covid-safe.
Family & friends
Bring home-cooked meals – Leave on the doorstep if necessary. Set up group messaging between relatives and friends through which you can agree on a schedule so that the new mum/parents get nutritious meals.
Take washing with you - Regulations permitting, take away their laundry and bring it back beautifully folded and ready to put away. Remember to use non-bio detergent and avoid softeners to ensure all clothes in the household are baby-friendly.
If allowed in the house:
- Be responsible with social distancing and sanitation of hands and surfaces.
- Don’t ask what needs doing or wait for a request – get on with whatever you see needs doing around the house. It may be doing dishes, emptying the washing machine/dishwasher, cleaning the bathroom, putting bins out/bringing them in or vacuuming. Anything you do will be most helpful.
Don’t give any advice – and don’t comment on parenting methods unless explicitly requested by mum and, even then, be gentle and supportive, rather than critical.
Pay for help – whether you can visit or not, paid help is always a godsend. Hire a cleaner, a lactation consultant to support with breastfeeding or a weekly recipe box delivery. Much better than flowers or another cute baby-grow.
Never put your needs or wishes before her/theirs – Whether you are desperate to visit or for a new baby-pic and an update, don’t ask to come round or demand news. Offer your support, let her know you’re there for them and wait until she/they invite you over or send news.
Accept that a group message may be all that she has time/energy to write - and, when texting, send reassurance and support.
If looking out for a single mother - be extra supportive and vigilant of her needs. Chances are she gets very little to no support or breathing space during the day or night. So, offer to take baby for a walk or cuddle baby downstairs whilst she gets a bath, has a nap or nips out for a walk by herself.
Becoming a mother can be overwhelming and it helps when partners, family and friends understand that caring for a helpless little human, whilst recovering from pregnancy and birth, is a lot harder than it looks! Knowing how new mothers feel and what they need allows loved ones to nurture and support them and enables new mothers time for their essential self-care.