By Yvonne Harris, Chair, Improving Maternal Health Awareness Committee
April 21, 2020
Welcoming a new baby is such a special time. For a mom, the postpartum period is precious as she adjusts to her family’s newest addition. This time is also referred to as the fourth trimester, which includes the first three months of the new baby’s life.
Often this period is overwhelming as mom works to physically recover from the birthing process and tend to daily responsibilities for her family. Balancing care for baby and self-care can be a challenge.
When my son was born, my instinct was to nest. I stayed at home for weeks, rarely venturing out, aside from taking walks in my neighborhood. I was extremely fortunate to have consistent, reliable support from family and friends who assisted me in varying ways. I will always be grateful to my tribe who helped to ease my transition into motherhood by giving their time to assist me with routine tasks and errands that felt anything but routine at the time.
Be present and check in on mom often.
I know this seems too simple to even mention, but it is often assumed that mom is too busy to talk or visit. While she may be busy, receiving a call or text from a loved one is always uplifting. Video chats and visits are even better. Spending a few minutes, one to two times per week, to let her know you are thinking of her will go a long way in reinforcing that she is supported and warding off any potential feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Lend your ear if she wants to share the joys and challenges of this period. Don’t worry about having all the solutions; listening and connecting are often the most important support tactics needed. Pay attention to what mom is saying and recommend postpartum and parenting resources that may be relevant during this time.
Try not overthink this. Just show up for mom. Spend time with her. Take a walk together. Watch a movie. Provide her with some ‘me time’ to allow her to focus on her own self-care. Look after the baby so mom can take a nap, take a bath/shower, take a walk, wash her hair, etc.
If mom has older children, offer to take them for an outing to provide some much needed relief for mom, and welcome play time for the siblings.
The gift of your time is precious and will mean so much.
Offer to drive mom to a doctor appointment.
After giving birth, both mom and baby will have a few follow-up doctor appointments. Offer to drive mom to her appointment. This can be especially helpful if mom depends on public transportation or rideshare. Ask mom if she would like support during the appointment or prefers that you wait for her. If she wants to you be present in the appointment, ask her in advance how you can best support her. Does she need your help with questions for the doctor or taking notes? As an alternative to attending the appointment, you can also offer to keep baby while mom goes to the doctor. You can also encourage mom to write down her questions ahead of time and bring them with her to the appointment. This way she will have a tangible list.
Assist with grocery shopping and other errands.
The quick trip to the grocery store is anything but quick for a new mom. Ask mom what items you can pick up for her, and if you forget to call her in advance, double-up on the basics we always need (fruits, dairy, paper and cleaning products, toiletries) and take them to her anyway. Flowers and sweet treats are a pleasant surprise! When you deliver the items, also offer to put them away. You can also leverage grocery store delivery services for this task. Along the same lines, offer to assist with dry cleaning and prescription pick-ups, and any other errands that are not easy for the new mom to complete at this time.
Provide meal support.
The way to a mom’s heart is through her stomach! 😊 Taking lunch or dinner to the family of a postpartum mom relives the stress that meal preparation for a family often entails. If you can stay and partake in the meal, your presence is a plus! Consider the use of disposable plates and utensils to help simplify post-meal clean up. Other options include the use of meal delivery services and gift cards to her favorite restaurants.
Help with household chores.
Staying on top of household chores is a challenge for most of us and can prove even more difficult for a new mom. Offer to help mom with some clean up. This does not mean cleaning the entire house. You can unload/load the dishwasher, sweep floors in the common areas, put away toys, make up a bed, or tidy a bathroom. The stack of used bottles and accessories that piles up on the side of the kitchen sink, go ahead and wash them in a sudsy bath with hot water. Offering assistance with deeper cleaning, laundry, or donating professional cleaning services are generous enhancements to this suggestion.
Send care packages to mom and baby.
If you don’t live in the same city with mom, or are simply unable to visit, prepare a fun care package for mom and baby. Get creative! Your package can include toiletries for mom, snacks, books, toys and supplies for baby, etc. Not sure where to start? Check online for companies that prepare and ship care packages.
Ask mom what she needs.
If you are not sure how to support mom during this time, ask her. If she says she does not need any help, be (gracefully) persistent. Many moms do not want to impose on others by asking for help. And there are times when we don’t really know what help to ask for. Offer suggestions about the type of help you received during your postpartum period. Share how you have assisted other family and friends. Show your true willingness to a resource during this time.
Special considerations for mom that may return to work soon.
Be mindful that mom may currently be on leave from her job and will return to work soon. As she prepares for this transition, she may start to feel anxious and may need additional help during this ramp up. Help her to identify any personal tasks or appointments that are needed prior to her return. If she asks, connect her to resources that can assist with selecting a day care center, providing breast milk pumping support, and talking to your boss about any scheduling considerations once back at work.
If you are a new mom reading this, it is important that you ask your support system for what you need. Be clear on what will help you the most. Now is not the time to be shy! Trust that your tribe is here to help you, your baby and your family.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Carol Yvonne Plummer Harris.
Wife, Mother, Daughter, Friend, Warrior.
August 17, 1951 – August 16, 2019.