So your friend just had a baby and you’re not sure what comes after “congratulations!” (Or you’re quite sure that you should share all your hard-won wisdom with her; read on in either case.) Offer to drop off food that’s not available on Seamless, find something positive to say about the baby’s name—but please do not utter these phrases.
You have a healthy baby, and that’s all that matters.
Hmm, it’s not though. Many women have traumatic pregnancies and births, and telling them to move on and focus on the beautiful result of what may have been a dark process minimizes them at the expense of their offspring. Silver Linings Playbook was a good movie, not a thing any new mom wants to receive.
Enjoy every moment.
Guess what? Some moments are just not enjoyable. Usually I strive to be present, but I coped with those first few weeks after we brought our baby home partly by detaching myself. New parents often have a lot of questions, especially for more experienced parents, but “how do I make sure 3 AM feedings are seared into my memory forever?” isn’t one of them.
Did you have a natural birth?
You wouldn’t ask someone whether she had a natural tonsillectomy. And what is a natural birth anyway? Is it unmedicated? Vaginal? Occurring in a mineral spring surrounded by forest creatures? I was eager to share my birth story, but I certainly didn’t want to be prompted with a closed-ended question cloaked in judgment.
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Your partner’s so helpful!
Changing diapers, babywearing, waking up for middle-of-the-night feedings—this is all standard parenting, and painting it in a heroic light can make new moms feel like they should be grateful for something that’s actually a given. Do feel free to tell new dads that their female partners are super “helpful,” though.
Anything involving the phrase “baby weight.”
Unless you’re asking how much the baby weighs (and even then, only if you don’t make a big deal of how supposedly huge or tiny she is, which can worry new moms). Women who have lost the weight they put on during pregnancy might be too stressed out to eat much or over-exercising as a way to feel in control during a tumultuous time. And those who haven’t probably don’t want to talk about it either.
Are you going to have another?
Wait to ask this until the baby doesn’t have a piece of the cord that connected him to his mother still stuck to his body (right after it falls off is probably still too soon). The last thing people want to think about when they’ve just taken a huge life step, whether it’s birthing a baby, getting married, or adopting a dog, is when they’re going to tackle the next one.
Just wait until she starts walking.
No one wants to think about all the hurdles to come—walking, talking, toddler meltdowns, teenage sex—while she’s trying to clear the one that’s right in front of her. And who’s to say those hurdles are higher? Some parents never want to leave the newborn bubble; others find weirdly specific ages difficult. (A mom of three recently told me she hated the 9- to-15-month range, for example.)
Have you thought about cutting out dairy?
My daughter spits up a lot. Moms have suggested I “switch up my diet” to avoid supposed culprits like dairy, gluten, soy, corn, and even nightshades. Lucky for pizza- and veggie burger–loving me, my doctor has assured me that what I put in my mouth has nothing to do with what comes out of my daughter’s. In case you’re not sensing a theme here, don’t give advice unless you’re asked.
Sleep when the baby sleeps.
For some new parents, this feels like permission to prioritize wellness over housekeeping, hygiene, and work. But others—and I count myself among them—cannot nap, and pressing them to conk out in the middle of the day is about as effective as an insomniac telling herself to just fall asleep already. If you really want to be helpful, offer to take the baby for a long walk and let your new-mom friend use that time to catch up on sleep, email, The Bachelor, etc.
Isn’t breastfeeding magical?
Yes, if “magical” includes chapped and bleeding nipples, clogged or infected milk ducts, and the panic-inducing feeling that your over-engorged breasts might actually explode. Oh, and some women don’t produce enough milk or stop breastfeeding for other reasons. Nursing has been relatively easy for me, but as with most things baby-related, even “easy” is hard. Congratulate your friend for keeping her new human alive, whether she’s breastfeeding, pumping, using donor milk, formula-feeding, or otherwise nourishing her baby in whatever way works best for both of them.
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