I was recently in conversation with three friends, discussing ways to serve a mutual friend who is due to deliver a baby in April. All four of us are mothers to multiple children, and we immediately began recalling our favorite ways friends and family had served us when our children were infants. Generally speaking, our role when we serve someone in the middle of a major life moment is to show up, to not make it about us, and to anticipate small needs in big ways.
But as my friends and I recalled the most meaningful ways we were served as new mothers, most of our favorites were not the “normal” ways people think to serve new moms. We also realized most of these ideas rarely get discussed. Today I want to share these thoughts with you in case you want to show up in unexpected yet meaningful ways for a new mother.
When it comes to serving new mothers, consider these ideas:
Do anything except hold the baby.
No doubt, everyone wants to hold a new baby. But holding a newborn is the easy part. Holding an infant is a gift, a treat, a delight, but it may not be an act of service to the new mother for you to hold her infant. Particularly in the very early days, the maternal instincts and bonding hormones are so strong it can create stress for the mother to not hold her baby. Instead of holding the baby, do anything else. Unload the dishwasher. Sweep the floor. Fold laundry. Deliver groceries. Change sheets. Take the dog for a walk. None of these tasks are tied directly to the baby, but they are acts of service that help the mother in tangible ways while allowing her to stay close and connected to her infant.
Help with existing children.
First babies are dreamy. All you do is hold them, feed them, and sleep with them. But second, third, and fourth babies? That’s a different story. All of the older children don’t suddenly stop needing things when the baby comes home. In fact, in some instances, they become more needy. Stepping in and providing childcare for the older children is a postpartum dream. Pick the kids up from school. Take them for the afternoon. Play a game with them. Read countless stories. Fix them lunch, feed them, and clean up the mess. This kind of care is a gift for a mother with other children.
Don’t ask questions that require the new mother to make thoughtful decisions.
New mothers are experiencing heightened emotions, potential feeding-related stress, massive physical recovery, and they are doing it all on little to no sleep. Limit the thinking that you require of them in your efforts to serve them. Instead of, “What can I do to help?” try, “I’m going to fold these towels and put them on top of the dryer.” This way you are giving them an opportunity to decline the offer, but you aren’t asking them to think. Instead of, “What can I bring you from the grocery store?” try, “I picked up some fruit, milk, your favorite almond butter, and a case of sparkling water for you, and I will be there in fifteen minutes. Do not get up.” I would kiss someone who just showed up with groceries and then politely disappeared.
Create space for her to shower.
I swear, all four of us could not emphasize strongly enough how good it felt for someone to create space for us to leave the baby under careful supervision so that we could take a full-blown, all-out shower followed by a slather of moisturizer and a pair of fresh pajamas. Is there any great gift for a new mother?
Communicate without strings attached.
In the age of texting, it is wonderful to be able to easily reach out to a new mother. The flip side of this coin is the potential for her phone to become one more thing that needs her attention. Text her! But free her from any obligation to reply. Try, “Don’t text me back! I just wanted you to know I am dropping dinner off at 4:00 in the cooler on your porch.” Or, “I can’t wait to meet your precious baby. Take your time soaking it all in, and when you’re ready to see people, or need some company, I am here. No need to reply right now!” This kind of text is a thoughtful gesture that puts zero pressure on the new mother to take action.
Consider other meals besides dinner.
Meal trains are an amazing way to serve a new mother and her family by providing dinner. However, don’t forget the other meals their family may need. One time a friend brought my family dinner, and along with a delicious dinner, she brought yogurt and banana bread, a giant bunch of grapes, and chicken nuggets for my kids. You don’t have to go overboard, but even a simple nod towards another meal is such a gift.
Respect boundaries and be kind.
Everyone responds to being a new mom differently. Some people are all in on visitors and pass the baby around with abandon. Others want their privacy and may take several weeks to feel comfortable sharing the baby with anyone. Our job is not to judge. Our job is to care, serve, and love by respecting these boundaries and empowering the new mother to find her way forward in a manner that builds confidence.
I recall watching my best friend’s mother interact with her daughter after the birth of her first baby. One of the most powerful phrases she used was, “Oh look. You know exactly what he needs. You’re doing such a good job. Can I get you some more water?”
Perhaps one of the best ways we can serve new mothers is to infuse them with encouragement and love as they learn new rhythms and step into a new role. Being critical (“I don’t think that’s the right way to swaddle.”), intrusive (“He sounds hungry. Aren’t you going to feed him?”), or passive aggressive (“You know I raised four children, so I think I know how to hold a baby.”) does not serve the new mother. Be kind or leave.
Take action in line with the level of relationship.
If the new mother is your sister or your best friend, then get in there and do all the things. If the new mother is your co-worker who you only interact with on a professional level, sign up to take a meal and keep your involvement in line with the level of your relationship.
There are going to be instances where you are very close and intimate with the new mother, and others where you are more on the outside of her circle. All of the same guidelines apply, but be judicious as to how you show up. Make sure your actions aligns with the level of closeness you have with the new mother. Show up, but don’t overstep.
New motherhood is a precious time, and to step in and serve a new mother provides opportunities to put hospitality into action. I hope these ideas prove helpful as you serve the new mothers in your life.
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