What you must avoid when visiting a new mother

What you need to know:

Beware. The joy of a new baby is not only shared by parents but also relatives and friends. Carolyne B. Atangaza shares proper ettiquette while visiting new mothers and how to respect boundaries.

The process of delivering a baby is perhaps one of the most straining and depressing moments all couples go through. Despite the hospital bills, it is characterised by anxiety, tension and uncertainty. When the baby finally arrives, the parents are happy, overwhelmed and tired.
One of my friends welcomed her bundle of joy- a beautiful baby girl. Knowing her family lives out of the country, a group of us organised to go see her in hospital and help back home. When we reached hospital, we were informed she had a list of the people she wanted to visit and two of my friends, unfortunately were not on the list. Those of us who were lucky to make it to her list had to produce our identity cards as proof or else we would not be allowed in.
When I asked the new mother why she had strict rules on who visits and who does not, she expressed fear that some visitors are exhausting. “Carolyne, I am already too exhausted with the delivery. I refuse to invite unnecessary stress in my life in form of visitors. When I am strong enough to put up with all that, I will invite them,” she said looking more radiant. “Maybe her style- harsh words works,” I thought to myself.
Generally, new mothers don’t have the energy for emotionally straining and awkward conversations, and definitely cannot stomach confrontation.
In our culture, when someone delivers a baby, we are expected to visit the new parents to congratulate and share their joy.
Before you make that trip to the maternity ward or to a relative’s home, remember, everyone is different and birth experiences and reactions vary.
Some women undergo traumatic birth experiences while others find it smooth. Even when the new mother is physically fine, it is possible that she maybe experiencing emotional challenges. And this perhaps is the reason you should make your visit as less demanding as possible. Tracy Ogwang recounts that the worst experience after child birth were the unannounced visitors who turned up anytime of the day and night. “There were the two sets of grandparents who had come to be with us during that time. Friends and relatives started showing up, expecting to be entertained and given a cup of tea. It was so frustrating and tiresome to welcome endless visitors, yet I had not recovered fully. I want people to know that it is not okay to just show up,” Ogwang relates. Ask when it is convenient and if the invitation delays, do not force your way.
“If they offer you a drink, take it and offer to at least clean up after. Do not add to the new mother the burden by asking for something else other than what they have offered,” Ogwan advises.
In the same way, make your visit as short as possible. Unless you are asked to stay longer, half an hour or an hour is long enough. Watch out for cues from your hosts, if they are yawning and looking bleary-eyed, it is probably time to go.
You can also make your visit a worthwhile experience for the new mother by helping out with chores. Ask to do some laundry, make tea, go shopping or take care of the older children or take them for a few hours.
Bring presents such as a nice shower gel or soap for mother, some of those personlised mugs or T-shirts for dad or gifts for the baby. Bring things you know the parents would appreciate not what you think they should have.
During the visit, do not just pick up the baby without asking the parents for permission. Ensure that your hands are clean and sanitised because newborn babies are fragile and susciptible to germs and infections. Avoid wearing strong scents because some babies are born with allergies.
Being new parents can be overwhelming to both parents. While the focus is always out on the mother, the father needs attention too.
Ask how they are and listen to their answers. You might have been through parenthood several times but you have not had their personal experience.
Agnes Menya, a mother of two, cautions against giving unsolicited parenting advice. “Nothing infuriated more when people visited and started telling me how to hold the baby, how to cover him or how to interpret his various noises. They told me what to eat and drink and when to sleep and when to wake up. Never mind that most of their advice was somewhat outdated. Babies are different and every mother learns on the job. Unless I ask, do not offer your advice,” Menya shares.
In addition to the unsolicited advice, Menya notes nothing gets people talking like a new baby. There are all these comments about the mother’s condition, the baby’s condition and so on and so forth. Menya lists comments one should never make when visiting new parents:
When are you going to lose that stomach? You are no longer eating for two, stop eating too much. You have big rings under your eyes. I wish you had had a boy instead of a girl. Don’t worry all babies are cute, yours too. You are not going to sleep for the next 18 years. Wait for colic is at three months. You are not a mother until you have survived teething. I had more breast milk than that. My baby was more able at that age. Your baby is very small, very dark, has big ears, big nose, cries a lot.
Instead offer encouraging comments such as “you look great” or “you don’t look tired” and admire the baby. All parents believe theirs is the most beautiful, cute, amazing baby that has ever been born. It is always good when other people confirm this and say nice things about our baby.

Unsolicited advice
If you are specifically asked for advice, great, give it. If not, please don’t join the hundreds of voices already telling these brand new parents how to do things ‘the right way’. Just listen, offer support, and know that if they want your advice, they’ll ask for it. This is a tricky one, because how do you know when you have outstayed your welcome? You can probably judge this from the new parents, when they start to look like they are tired.