Words: Charlotte Philby

Being pregnant for the first time is one of the weirdest experiences in a woman’s life. There is the sense of wonder at the way your body unfolds, making room for this unknown being who is about to become the centre of your universe, and how your skin seems to glows for a two-month period between the *knackered* stage and the *really knackered* stage. There is also the terror, punctuated by exhaustion and skull-crushing uncertainty.

Then the baby comes out and again, there’s that flurry of emotion – this time with a tiny, fragile new life to take care of, thrown in for good measure… Just when you need headspace to process it all, another challenge rears its head: how to negotiate the sudden onslaught of friends and family who, with all the good will in the world, tend to inundate you with requests for visits, baby cuddles and constant updates. Just when you need a little time to breathe.

While some women thrive on this unparalleled burst of love, others can find it overwhelming. For my part, I just wanted a bit of space to work out what the hell I was doing and – crazy alert – to protect my new baby from the endless waft of lurgies I imagined would flood the house on an endless tide of visitors.

By the time I had my second baby, I was happy to open the flood-gates almost immediately, desperate for a distraction for the older child, a break from holding two kids at a time, and the possibility of tea made by someone else. But for many new parents, those first weeks are fragile and a moment for intimacy, away from the rest of the world – and getting it right as the friend or relation, keen to help out and meet the new bundle of love, can be tricky.

So, here is our guide to the Do’s and Don’ts for being the best, most supportive pal you can be in those precious first weeks… (Feel free to add “and bring cake” to the end of every sentence.)

Do

Be a pillar of strength for the new mum in your life. Make it clear that you are there to provide emotional and practical support as and when she might need it – and then back off until you’re needed.

Offers of cleaning, laundry, food parcels, good box-sets, are all gladly received, even if not immediately taken up. Your job for the moment is to bolster your loved one, so that she can in turn have the strength to look after her baby (along with her partner).

Send supermarket food deliveries instead of flowers. Practical supplies like packs of nappies, wipes etc, are also unglamorous but endlessly needed. And gift vouchers! Yes, it sounds boring but the danger is that with so many petals, the new family’s suddenly cramped home will start to resemble a morgue; and no-one will ever resent you an extra tenner to spend in John Lewis.

Send a heartfelt card. I remember weeping over the lovely messages received after our first child was born. On that note, also send a card when the second child is born (and third and fourth…).

Be patient. A few weeks means nothing in the long-term, but for a new parent, that period is pivotal. Some new mums and dads will want to introduce their new arrival almost immediately, whereas others might want to hold out for longer. Either way, your time will come, so hold tight.

Once you’re finally invited into the fold, tell them how great they look. Regardless of how strung-out they actually look.

Ask how they’re feeling and be genuinely interested in their new world. Hearing about poo explosions and sleepless nights might be limiting in its interest (unless you have a newborn yourself, or remember those days clearly, or have a very nuanced interest in anthropology) but either way, try to stay focused.

Don’t

If you happen to know the baby’s allotted “due date” do not take this to mean the day on which the child will certainly arrive and henceforth bombard the parents with texts lamenting the baby’s overdue-ness. This is important. Trust me, as a woman who has been pregnant for nine long months, and by now the size of a small ship, you are acutely aware of the ticking clock. The baby will come when it comes. In the meantime, keep schtum.

Don’t send pleading requests for an invitation, which – well-meaning as they will surely be – might put the new parents under pressure to open their doors before they’re ready. It might sound annoying and incomprehensible, but bonding with a newborn, especially if you’ve had a difficult birth, can take a while; so breathe in and out and think zen thoughts until your invitation arrives.

Do not – ever – offer unsolicited advice. “You’re making a rod for your own back… When I was a mum we used to… You should do it like this” are all words no new parent wants to hear. If your opinion is requested, please feel free to share it, without taking offence if it is subsequently rejected. Every baby and every mother is different and sometimes people need to figure things out for themselves.

Definitely don’t cast judgement over their parenting choices, be it around breastfeeding, whether or not they choose to swaddle their baby, what sleeping methods they employ, how often they pick the baby up. However well-meaning your thoughts on the best way to raise a child, please do not verbalise them.

New parents are hyper-sensitive souls. Don’t mention famine, disease, death or the prospect of them having to return to work any time soon. Sometimes you just want to live in a cocoon, at least for a few days.

If you smoke, make sure you wash your hands before holding the newborn once your time comes. Nothing upsets a new mum like a baby who smells like an ashtray. Ditto if you’re generally a bit pongey.

Don’t mention all the fun you’re having, how your career is progressing and/or all your amazing plans for Summer fun. It’s not that we’re not happy for you, it’s just that for the moment while we may be thrilled with our lot, we’re also hormonal; add to that irrationally, insanely jealous and worried we may never sleep/leave the house/get a promotion ever again. Or maybe that’s just me.

More in Features

Writers Bloc #1 Val McDermid

By , 25th September 2018
Features, Regulars
From imposter syndrome to plotting, in a new series for Marie Claire authors give me chapter and verse on how the writing process works for them - starting with multi award-winning crime writer Val McDermid, who has written 32 books in as many years

The Lives of Others #6

By , 23rd July 2018
Education, Features, Regulars, Travel
Georgie Higginson moved from the UK to Uganda 14 years ago. After losing their daughter to stillbirth, she and her husband were inspired to build a lodge on the banks of the River Nile, overlooking Murchison Falls National Park - an area once occupied by LRA rebels

Global Village #6

By , 9th July 2018
Design, Features, Regulars, Travel
Designer Kate Pietrasik lived in London, Edinburgh, New York and Byron Bay before moving to a town near Biarritz when her daughter was four years old. She reflects on life as a 'blended family', running her own business, and the joy of being rootless