These questions get asked so often, it’s almost as if there's a script.
Shell-shocked. That's pretty much how I'd describe how I felt as a new mom. I made it through childbirth alive, but my body was barely recognizable.
I hadn't slept for more than a hour at a time in weeks, and I was still figuring out how to latch my newborn on without being completely topless (for real; I wasn't sure how I'd ever leave the house). I was just trying to make it from one day to the next, and learning how to brush my teeth or eat a sandwich with a newborn glued to me.
Goals and aspirations? What kind of parent did I want to be? I had no freaking idea. All I wanted was a shower, a hot meal, and someone to wipe down my kitchen counters.
All I wanted was to know that I'd make it through this thing with an ounce of my former self intact. All I wanted was the assurance I was going to be able to take care of this tiny human and not totally screw him (or myself) up.
Yes, there were plenty of people who would listen to my feelings. There were kind souls who came and did my laundry, brought me meals, and simply said, "You're doing great."
But when people would try to make chit-chat with me, they'd almost invariably end up asking the most annoying, anxiety-producing questions on earth.
These questions get asked so often, it's almost as if there's a script. They might seem harmless and innocent, and I know the people who ask them mean well, but for a new, vulnerable, worried mom, they're anything but.
New moms are themselves questioning everything, trying to find their footing, and getting all kind of conflicting advice. Every little thing you say has the potential to get under their skin, especially in the beginning when sleeplessness is at its peak and hormones are racing all over the place.
So, if you happen to walk into the home of a new mother, or come into contact with her in any way, please — for the love of God — stop asking her these questions:
1. "Is he sleeping through the night yet?"
I swear, people ask new mothers this as early as a few days in. Sorry, but only about 1 percent of babies sleep through the night in those early weeks, and most don't sleep all the way through (as in a 10 to 12 hour stretch) for many months (or years!).
I know such miracle babies exist — I've even met a few myself — but most babies just don't do that. And the last thing a new mom needs is to wonder if her baby should be sleeping through yet. I have no idea why people ask this question. It just sets mothers up for failure.
2. "When are you going back to work?"
We have crap maternity leave in this country, and the majority of mothers have to go back to work much earlier than they want to. And most of the mothers who are planning to stay home are totally freaking out about how their family will get by financially, and whether their careers will still be there for them in a few years.
Give moms at least a few weeks before they even have to think about work. Shut up about it, truly.
3. "Are you ever going to put that baby down?"
For some reason, people are very impatient for brand new babies to become independent right away. Babies, on the other hand, usually have other plans.
Some newborns are happy to hang out in a bassinet or swing. Others cry when you put them down. Why? They've been held safely in a warm, cozy place for nine months, and it takes them a little time to feel ready to be on their own.
All babies crave independence eventually. And yes, moms usually want a break from all the holding, but most of them just want someone else to hold their baby for a bit. So, offer to do that, maybe? Mostly, though, just keep your lips sealed.
4. "I'm sick, but it's not contagious so we're still going to come over, OK?"
Listen, maybe what you have really isn't contagious, but no new mom is going to believe you. Even if she politely answers yes and lets you come over, she's going to spend the next three days wondering if every sneeze or whimper out of her baby's mouth is a sign of The Plague. If you're sick at all, please stay the hell away.
5. "Isn't the baby hungry?" or "Are you sure the baby's hungry again?"
There are a lot of different feeding theories out there. Feed on demand! Set up a schedule early! In almost no instance will a mother starve her baby, and almost no mothers are overfeeding babies.
So, let the parents be in charge of feeding their babies. Let them find their way together with their little munchkins. It's one of the first ways parents and babies learn to communicate with one another, and it's a sacred thing, no matter how they do it. Stay out of the way and let them figure it out.
6. "Isn't the baby too cold/too hot?"
I couldn't bring my newborn babies out of my house without complete strangers commenting on how I dressed them. Put a hat on that child! He needs a blanket! I hope you've put on some sunblock!
Oh, for Pete's sake, leave it the hell alone. Believe me, no mom wants to freeze or overheat her kid. She probably knows how long she's going to be out and about and has 50 changes of clothes in her diaper bag.
7. "Is he/she a good baby?"
I saved this for last because damnit, I can't handle this one. Every baby is a good baby, OK? Babies who cry for 24 hours are good babies. Babies who will only sleep on you are good babies.
Babies who are happy to be handed to strangers are good babies. Babies who nurse every 45 minutes are good babies. Babies who finish their bottles are good babies. Babies who don't finish their bottles are good babies.
Babies who sleep for 8-hour stretches are good babies. Babies who wake up every hour for a year are good babies. Come on! Don't let the kid-comparison game happen this early. All babies are different and all babies are GOOD.
Instead of asking these questions, here's what you can do: Bring that new mommy a lasagna (or ask her what she has a craving for). Tell her the baby is beautiful. Tell her that she's doing a wonderful job. Ask her how she's doing, how she's feeling. Ask her what she needs.
Stop focusing on what kind of parent she is and whether she's doing it right. As long as she's keeping herself and the baby alive, she's doing great.
What she needs is the confidence to believe that herself. So, listen to her, empathize, love her, and stop it with the nosy questions.
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