A Doula’s Guide to Visiting New Parents

By: Haley Reen

When I became a postpartum doula, it was because I love to be with new parents, to nurture them so that they may nurture their new baby. I love to hear fresh birth stories, I love to nourish with meals, and care with chores and empathy.
It used to be that we lived among friends and family, that families already had a network of support upon the welcoming of a newborn. Modern life has parents living thousands of miles from grandparents and aunts. Urban families might have 300 friends on Facebook, but no one in their own neighborhood to come and help, and help is needed so very much in those first weeks.

Perhaps a friend, a coworker, the parents of your own children’s playmates are expecting.  … Iif you are feeling generous, perhaps you would be willing to be part of their “village” and offer your support. But, this is not etiquette covered in the books of Emily Post. How do we offer traditional forms of support to modern families?
I know how exciting new babies are. I know how much people want to see and smell them when they are brand new. I also know that being a good friend to new parents means taking the utmost care with a new and very delicate situation. If you want to be extra kind to new parents, consider these dos and don’ts, but as with all advice on the internet: you know your situation and your community best — these are just suggestions.

  1. Wait for an invitation
    In the weeks before birth, let mom and dad know that you would love to help when the baby comes, and not to hesitate to call. Then: wait for the call. A Facebook wall post or text is an appropriate way to let them know you’re available, but don’t expect a quick response, and don’t be offended if you don’t get one at all. They are likely overwhelmed and exhausted.
  2. When you get that invite, stick to it
    When they say “Wednesday at 2pm,” be there. Don’t make a new mom wait for you when she could be taking a rare moment to sleep or shower. Don’t be late and risk interrupting baby sleep. When you get there, either text to say you are there or knock ever so gently — don’t rap, don’t ring the bell. If you wake that baby, you’ll feel awful.
  3. Before you come over, be clean and prepared
    No sniffles, no diarrhea last night, no cigarette smoke on your clothes or hair. Call the parents or email them to ask if there is anything you can pick up for them at the store on your way over, or any food they would like. When you have a newborn in your arms 24-7 it’s nearly impossible to eat, let alone cook, so food gifts are king. Food in disposable casserole dishes is ideal — new parents are not going to get around to washing and returning your Pyrex dish. And for goodness sake, if you cook them a meal in their home, consider helping with dishes.
  4.  When you get there, do something
    Wash the dishes, wipe down the bathroom, fold baby laundry, empty the fridge of old food and take out the garbage. This is seriously the best thing you can do for new parents. If you need to, pack damp paper towels with cleanser sprayed on in a Ziploc in your purse/bag before you come over. When you use the restroom, just give it a wipe down on the down-low. Just do these things — the parents will likely say no if you ask them if they want you to. Not because they don’t want you to but because they’re trying to be polite.
  5. Be calm, quiet, and patient
    I know you want to scoop that baby up and smell it. Here is the bad news: you might not get to hold the new baby on your first or second visit. New moms often don’t want to let anyone hold the new baby, or baby simply won’t tolerate it. But if you are a conscientious guest, you will get other opportunities. Let mom know you would love to hold baby, but don’t push the issue.
  6. If mom WANTS to tell you her birth story, listen
    Offer to write it down for her, even. But don’t pry if she doesn’t want to, and don’t offer your own (if you have one) unless she asks. This is especially true if it was traumatic or unplanned things happened.
  7. Don’t bring young kids
    They can’t be expected to be quiet and keep to themselves. Wait until the baby is older.
  8. Leave
    Seriously, don’t stay long. Thirty minutes tops unless mom asks for more. Make up some sort of thing you have to do/go to, and let yourself out. In fact, if mom is really tired, don’t stay at all, just drop off the food and go.
  9. Don’t give advice unless asked
    I can’t say this enough. When you do give that advice, tread lightly.

More than anything, new parents need lots of help and rest.  They need someone to clean out the kitty litter, bring over a warm meal, or hold the baby while they sleep.  Be sensitive to their needs, ask them what would be most helpful, remembering that sometimes new parents just need someone to talk to, but sometimes they just need you to leave food on the porch and come back at a better time.

Haley Reen is a work-at-home mother to two spirited children. She resides in the East Bay and home schools in the Waldorf method. She writes for several parenting blogs, and does post-partum doula care on the side.