Over the last few days, a number of my friends and family members have given birth to beautiful December babies. Watching the messages of congratulations rolling in on Facebook, the excited, "I can't wait to meet him/her!" made me reflect on hospital visiting "etiquette" and ask myself a question: should you visit a new mum in hospital or wait until she's settled at home?
I distinctly recall those first hazy minutes after giving birth. The doors to my room flung open and in streamed grandparents, aunts and uncles. I remember my baby being taken from me and passed around under smiling faces while the midwife took me to shower. And while I loved having everyone there to share in the excitement, the special quiet later than night when it was just my husband, baby and I, was pretty special too.
During those hours of no visitors I was able to focus on mastering breastfeeding, not having to worry about being half-dressed and getting to know the new little person in my life. Over the next few days during my time in hospital, only my best friend and my own grandparents visited. Everyone else met my baby when we were happily settled back at home. It was the perfect balance.
I asked the parents in my life for their opinion on hospital visits and was surprised at just how many expressed regret when it came to their own experiences after giving birth. There were stories of invasive relatives looking under the sheets at C-section scars, being woken up by unexpected evening "pop-ins" and just generally feeling overwhelmed by a room full of people.
Mother of two Jac explained, "I didn't want any visitors but this wish wasn't respected by some for the first baby. People say they will 'only pop in quickly' but hung around despite how tired I was and in pain.
"Now I never visit a new mum in hospital unless they insist it's okay, and not straight away. Next time I would insist hubby enforced the rules."
Carolyn, a mother of one, also said that she'd probably do things differently given the chance. "I had family and good friends come to visit but in hindsight it was probably a bit overwhelming. We try to hold off until people are home now and are a tad more settled. You've got the rest of your lives to show the new addition how happy you are that they are here!"
Mum of one Lizzie was highly selective about who she was comfortable seeing, even asking her husband to turn people away at the door. And Kellie, also a mum of one, managed to stick to her "only a few visitors" policy by having three visitors spread across her four night admission.
Others however, had a different experience and looked forward to visits. Kate, a mum of two, found guests after her firstborn helped with the boredom (and lack of wifi!), while Sarah, also a mother of two, said visitors were very welcome during the long weeks in hospital with her premature bub.
The general consensus about visiting new parents in hospital came down to these key points:
- Commonsense applies: text or call first. Unexpected or unannounced drop-ins are a no-no
- It seems obvious, but observe the hospital's visiting hours. There are afternoon "rest" periods for a reason: rest.
- If you have been invited to the hospital, sushi, wine and soft cheese is always welcome!
- Don't stay too long. Having visitors can be exhausting, especially for first-time parents.
- Don't take it personally if new parents don't feel up to a hospital visit. For many it's a time to bond, master breastfeeding and rest. There's plenty of time for newborn cuddles when everyone's settled in at home!