5 Rules for Visiting New Parents in the Hospital

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5 Rules for Visiting New Parents in the Hospital

Having a baby is not all sunshine, happiness and rainbows.  It’s more like blood, sweat, tears, and then no sleep.  When you’re an observer, it can be hard to recognize this - even if you’ve had children of your own, and sometimes we all need a little guidance on how to treat someone in one of the rawest moments of their life (new parenthood).  

Staged photo meant to deceive you into thinking new parents are happy, calm, wearing white, and freshly showered.

When baby #1 was born, I had no idea what I was doing, no idea how to handle the people around me who were pressuring me with their own ideas and opinions, and no idea who I was.  I was clueless, and so were a lot of the people around me.  One thing that would have been SUPER HELPFUL when my husband and I were adjusting to parenthood was something that was completely out of our control - how the people around us were treating us. I am of the belief that you teach people how to treat you, and we didn’t do a very good job of that when baby #1 came around.  

Actual picture of a tired new daddy in the hospital.

It’s difficult to be assertive and state what you need and don’t need when you’re a vulnerable new parent.  And after many nights of lurking in the internet forums of “how to not be mad at people for being annoying when you’re a new parent”, I realized that we weren’t alone in how we were feeling, so I’ve put together a helpful little list to help out those who are going through, or are about to go through, this potentially rocky transition. Below are 5 rules for visiting new parents in the hospital.  Enjoy!

Dad-to-be teaching his father-in-law about boundaries by showing him Baby Goes Here’s latest blog post

  • Ask permission and don’t assume. First of all, did the new parents tell you that you could come visit in the hospital? Let’s start right there with a boundary pep talk. Giving birth is hard. Taking care of babies is hard. Nursing is hard. Having to be nice to people while you adjust to parenthood is hard. New moms are dealing with a lot.  First of all, they’re like “what the hell just happened and why does it feel like my butt is falling out of my body (a sensation only mothers will be able to relate to)?” And second, now that the scary part is over, the other scary part has just begun, and that’s the whole parenting thing. On top of this, they’ve got friends and family clawing at each other trying to get the first peak at the new little one. Babies make people crazy. People tend to use them as a barometer for measuring their own self worth with the new parents and put a lot of pressure on parents to “include” them, which can be incredibly stressful and damaging. So the best thing you can do is say to the new mama, or whoever is managing visitors, “hey, is it okay if I stop by and IF NOT THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY.” Respecting boundaries will win you points in the long run.

Friends of new parents who politely texted to ask if they could visit in the hospital and are patiently waiting to hear back. 

  • Bring food. If you’ve gotten permission to come visit the new parents and their newest bundle of joy, don’t ask if they want food, just bring food. Mom has been confined to a hospital bed and only has only had access to hospital food. If you offer, she may politely decline just because she doesn’t want to put you out, but the truth is, hospital food is usually not great and you’ll be a hero if you bring a sandwich from the outside world.  If she doesn’t want it, her partner or someone else probably will, so just bring it. If you don’t know what to bring, dessert was always welcome in my hospital room, and I’m sure it will be in your daughter’s/friend’s/niece’s as well.
Bonus points if the food you bring has sprinkles.
  • Don’t point out flaws. Babies look weird. They’ve been scrunched in someone’s body for 9 months and then the whole birthing process didn’t do wonders for their aesthetics either. Their faces are might be squished, they may have weird skin or there might be some other off-putting feature they have going on that makes you say “hmm.” But baby was just born into the world surrounded by medical professionals, so if there were any problems that needed attention, the extensive hospital staff, or experienced midwives, would have already been on it. Besides, you’ll only stand to annoy the new mother who is probably already silently worrying that her baby’s face will be squished forever.  Keep your comments positive.
Baby who cried because their mom’s friend said he looked weird.  Way to go, mom’s friend.
  • Respect Mom’s privacy. Thankfully, here in the US, breastfeeding is finally becoming normalized in our society. Women should feel comfortable feeding their children when and where they need to. That being said, that doesn’t mean that all mothers want to breastfeed in front of people. If mom is trying to nurse her baby, politely ask if she would like for you to leave while she nurses. If she doesn’t mind you being there, then great! Keep chatting away. If she says she prefers privacy, leave the room until she says it’s okay to come back in.  Not only is this respectful and necessary, but mom will appreciate the fact that you are trying to be accommodating to her needs. Many people are not.

Mother whose in-laws wouldn’t leave her hospital room when she was trying to nurse, forcing her to venture to a nearby open field to get some privacy.

  • Prepare for some TMI and deal with it. If you’re fortunate enough to have been invited to the hospital to visit new parents and their baby, keep in mind that the woman you’re about to go see just gave birth. She either pushed a 7+ pound human out of her body, or a doctor pulled one (or 2!) out of her on an operating table. There will be blood, stitches, and a whole lot of unpleasantry. If you can’t deal with seeing leaky boobs, a bloodstained bathroom, or crying babies, steer clear of the hospital.  Postpartum is rough, and if you have anything less than positive vibes to contribute, it’s perfectly okay to wait until the waters are less choppy, and the bathroom less bloody, before visiting.

Two people who offended a new mother and deeply regretted it.

  • Bonus rule! Just because you are family, doesn’t mean that the rules don’t apply to you as well.  Being a relative does not give you a free pass to not be respectful of new parents and new babies. Ask what they need and accept their answer. New parents need space and when the time is right, they will reach out.  In the meantime, grin and bear it knowing that they will call on you down the road.  

Selfie time at the hospital for a new dad and his mother, who respected all boundaries and only showed love and support for her son’s new family, and always knew when it was time to leave.  Go Grandma!