What new mums need more than a baby gift

There are better things to give a new mum than a cute baby gift.
There are better things to give a new mum than a cute baby gift. Photo: Jasper Cole

Maybe you became a mother long ago, and you remember those early days as a blink and a blur, and mostly from a few smiling photos of you and your newborn. Or maybe you are not a mother at all, whether by gender, circumstance, or choice. No matter - come with me for a moment.

When not-new parents hear that a baby has arrived, we rejoice. "She is beautiful! Xoxo!" we gush on Facebook. We send a congratulatory card, a baby toy, and a blanket in the mail. We say, "Aw, how adorable!" at prop-laden newborn photo shoots that seem to have become compulsory in the last five years. We visit, and we cuddle the baby and snap a photo.

Of course we celebrate the birth. It is a wondrous thing, and nothing less than the crux of our entire human existence. But let us not forget - when a baby is born, so too is a mother.

I'm as tempted as anyone to buy adorable baby toys and outfits, but it is the mother who needs us most after childbirth. Sure, bring the tiny cute stuff if you like, but do this too ...

Bring food

New parents do not have the time nor energy to plan meals, grocery shop, and spend hours in the kitchen. It is an incredibly nourishing act to feed someone you care about. Nourish her.

Bring everything she needs, including paper plates. Eat with her if she wants the company, and just leave the food with her if she wants to collapse later and eat it on the couch

Support her baby-feeding choices 

So she wants to breastfeed - it's not for you to fret about the baby's weight gain, and don't give her the idea that she has to hide away out of sight while she's nursing (but do give her privacy if she wants it).

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Instead, bring her a glass of water while she's nursing. She is always, always thirsty.

If she decides to stop breastfeeding and move to formula, acknowledge that she knows what is best for her family. Don't lecture, or inquire why she stopped. Let her be, and thank heavens there are safe, nutritious formulas.

Pick up what she needs

Call or text her from the grocery store, pharmacy, or Target. "I'm out at ________. Can I pick up anything for you while I'm here?" Small to you, huge to her.

Take the big kids out 

If she's just had her second or third child or beyond, offer to drive the older ones to preschool or soccer. Invite them over to play with your kids.

If you're close, see if the new parents would like you to pick up the big kids for an overnight visit.

Listen to her

Don't assume she is loving new motherhood. If she shows signs of post-natal depression, help her feel okay about asking her doctor or midwife for additional care.

She may not know if what she is feeling is a normal bout of blues, or something that could use a little extra attention from her medical provider.

If you struggled with new motherhood yourself, please talk about it, so new mothers who aren't joyfully in love with their babies don't feel so lost and alone, and know when to ask for help.

No matter when she has to return to work, or return to her regular duties at home, she needs the support of the rest of us. This is not because she can't do it herself, because she will, if I know anything about the tenacity of mothers.

But she deserves better than just getting by - she deserves acknowledgement and care for what she and her body have been through, and continue to go through, in the post-natal days.

The cute nursery doesn't make the baby sleep through the night, the newborn photos are nothing but adorable staged fantasies, and the mother doesn't need another rattle or stuffed animal or outfit.

She needs love, support, time to rest and recover, and practical help.

Especially food. Always bring food.

This is an edited version of an article which first appeared in The Washington Post.