There are few things in life more heartwarming than meeting a newborn baby for the first time, especially if that baby is the son or daughter of a dear friend. But for the parents who have just had a baby, there are also few things that are more stressful and exhausting. The new mom or dad have probably not had more than three consecutive hours of sleep. The mom's nipples are probably sore and bleeding. And neither have had time to eat a real meal. This post is dedicated to the etiquette of visiting new parents. I hope it doesn't offend anyone. It shouldn't. I definitely violated these rules before I had a baby. This is meant to simply help friends understand the needs of a new parent.
1) Clean your hands: When you arrive for your visit, the first thing you should do is wash your hands and let your friend know that you are washing your hands. You want to give your friend the peace of mind that when you touch his/her new baby, you are doing it with the cleanest possible hands. And ask if there's any hand sanitizer for you to use. I guarantee there's probably a couple gallons of it around the house. Newborns have fragile immune systems and you don't want to be the reason the baby gets sick at such a young age. Believe me, parents keep tabs on who may have made their baby sick -- they may resent you forever. This brings me to rule number two:
2) If you're sick, don't visit: This may seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people seem to think it's OK to visit a newborn when they have a cold. Even a minor cold could make the baby sick. So just wait till you are back to full health before you visit.
3) Come early, don't stay too long: This is probably the most important piece of advice. You probably think your friend wants to have some adult company after spending days alone doing nothing but changing diapers and burping a baby. That's true. But unless you're the kind of person that knows how to handle babies and can give mom or dad a break to go shower or sleep, don't stay for more than an hour. Moms need to do things like breastfeed, or pump milk, or put the baby to sleep in a quiet environment. It's not easy to do any of these things with friends around. Try not to stay past 6 p.m. New moms and dads will be trying to go to sleep as early as possible and they need a little while to get things in order before they can take a snooze ahead of a long night of interrupted sleep.
4) Insist on helping: If you know how to handle a baby well, offer to hold the baby and give the mom or dad a chance to do something for themselves, like go to the bathroom and maybe even brush their teeth. If you're not good with babies, bring lunch or dinner over. The new mom or dad have probably not had a proper meal all day.
5) Give useful baby gifts: Your visit is sweet enough and you should never feel obligated to buy a gift. Bringing a meal or a snack over is more than enough. But if you insist on giving something, make sure it's useful. Far too often people buy very cute outfits but they are likely the wrong size and for the wrong season. Sure, you may have included a gift receipt, but believe me, the new mom or dad will not have a chance to do any exchanges or shopping for a very long time. Books for the baby are always a good idea and they don't take up too much space. One of my favorite gifts was a book called Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. I will read it to my son for many years to come and think of the sweet friend who gave it to us every time. Gift certificates are another good option. Babies need many different things as they grow and a gift certificate gives your friends some extra cash to buy what he/she may need.
6) Don't judge: Remember the new mom and dad are functioning on very few hours of sleep and they may not make much sense at times. They are also probably hyper-sensitive and they may still be wearing the same outfit they put on the day before. Forgive them of their faux pas, and they'll forgive yours!
I believe if you follow these five simple rules, your friends will really appreciate your visit and ask you to come back again and again. But after hearing all the crying and fussiness that comes with a newborn baby (from both the parents and the baby), you may decide to wait a few months before going back again.
This post was originally published on The Real Moms of OC and DC blog.