My credentials on this are multifold – I have two children and one of them was born less than four months ago, so I’ve just done the ‘new mum’ thing all over again very recently. I have a number of friends ditto, plus I volunteer with a breastfeeding support group where I speak to a lot of new mums. I’m also a member of two lovely online ante/post-natal support groups so I’m in regular and intimate contact with more than 90 other mothers, and boy do we share!
There are so many ways to support a new mother. First and foremost I would suggest food. Don’t offer it, just supply it. Especially here in the UK we’re programmed to humbly decline offers of help, so if you want to be really useful then just turn up with a pasta bake, a casserole, a tray of brownies or a big fat cake. Here’s crucial point number two – make something that requires very little prep or input and supply it in a container that does not need to be returned. A kind friend made an absolutely delicious pasta bake for us that we were so grateful for, but I spent the next month feeling guilty that I hadn’t returned her casserole dish. Either use an old icecream tub or buy some of those handy-dandy foil containers with paper lids so they can just stick it straight in the oven – and try and make a one-dish meal so they don’t have to worry about accompaniments.
If you don’t live locally then why not do as my lovely friend, Bev, did and order some chocolate by post? Hotel Chocolat (um – hell yes! Thanks Bevster) do deliveries, as do Thorntons. If you want to supply proper food from a distance then there are great companies like Cook who could help, or get some really good quality supermarket ready-meals delivered – but make sure they’ll know to be home.
If you want to visit then that’s fine, but be sensitive. If you get the feeling she’s not keen then back off quickly. If a visit is agreed then suggest a time limit and either avoid mealtimes, or turn up with a dish as above. Again, don’t ask if there’s anything useful you can do, just try and use your brain. Peg a wash out, run the hoover around, get her a cup of tea – anything except sitting there like a royal visitor expecting cuddles with the baby whilst her or her partner run around after you.
If there’s an older child, especially one under about six, then make a big fuss of them. Bring them a present, even if it’s just a bag of chocolate buttons. Ask if you can see ‘their’ baby (small children get very possessive of new siblings, as if they’re a new and very precious toy). Read a story with them or take them out to the playground if they’re the kind of child who would enjoy this rather than scream the house down to be removed from their loving parents (The Boy couldn’t get away from us quick enough when anyone offered but I know some kids are more sensitive!)
Find something nice to say about the baby, even (especially) if it looks like an angry, red potato. Even if it’s a not-quite compliment like the handy list I’ll provide below, just sound very enthusiastic and smitten, smiles lots and it’ll come across well. The mother will find it far easier to believe than compliments about her, though you should try a couple of those, too.
“Oh isn’t s/he sweet?!”
“Just look at those eyes/dimples/hands/that nose/smile/tummy!!”
“What a lot of hair!”
“Ahh, he looks just like his daddy/granddad/brother!” (make sure the relative in question isn’t noticeably deformed or the compliment will fall a little flat)
“Oh what a pudding/dumpling/little sausage!”
“What a little charmer!”
Finally, and this one is critical, if the mum had a tough time and wants to talk about her birth then let her and do NOT offer any meaningless platitudes like “at least you have a healthy baby.” a) she knows that, don’t act like it’s not something she’s considered. b) it discounts her wellbeing entirely and will shut down her freedom to talk. If in doubt then just say “I’m so sorry you had such a tough time”. It’ll make her feel heard.
Sure there are other things you can do and say, but come bearing food, don’t stay too long, do something useful, say something nice and let her talk and you’ll be a very welcome guest.