Mothering a Mother: 11 Tips to Take Care of a New Mom

This article was originally posted on Nuture Therapy, LLC by Jamie Kreiter, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist certified in perinatal mental health. She is also an Expert on the SocialMama app.

Having a baby is an overwhelming, emotional experience. The realization that this tiny and fragile being is completely dependent on you—paired with the physical exhaustion and recovery of delivery, rapid hormonal changes, and sleep deprivation—can be a challenge for any new mother. In recognition of these challenges, many cultures have adapted traditions and rituals for a mother to rest and recuperate and focus solely on bonding with her new baby.

In Hispanic cultures, la cuarentena, a period of approximately 40-days where the new mom abstains from sex, eats only approved foods and is mandated to rest in order to focus on nursing, taking care of her baby and herself. During this time, other members of the family pitch in to cook, clean and take care of older children, if there are any. In China, there is a 30-day period of confinement or “the sitting month” after a child is born. During this time, a new mother does not leave the house in order to recover from childbirth. The period usually includes traditional health beliefs, rituals, and practices, including eating bland foods and avoiding cold water to restore the body’s balance. In Korean tradition, samchilil, which means 21-days, is a time for a new mother to rest and be cared for by her mother or mother-in-law for at least 21-days. It is believed that the new mother must be cared for in order to ensure a quick recovery from birth and sufficient time to bond and adjust to motherhood. There is no housework, errands, cooking or responsibilities.

In our culture, we perpetuate the notion that women should experience a smooth and euphoric transition into motherhood. However, practices in the United States do very little to promote this. Hospital stays usually vary from 2-3 days. New mothers are not encouraged to rest or take a hiatus from household responsibilities. In fact, most are expected to resume normal activities as soon as possible, neglecting the seriousness of a woman’s physical and emotional condition after birth. A new baby brings a lot of excitement and happiness to a home, but can also bring a lot of exhaustion. How can we better take care of our mothers?

It is important to “mother our mothers”—to nurture them, to anticipate their needs, to provide unconditional empathy and support—similar to the way a new mother cares for her baby. Here are 11 things you can do for the new mothers in your life.

1. Check with the new mom before visiting

Call, or even better text a mom before coming over. Ask if she needs anything that you can pick up on your way over or offer to run a quick errand. Ask if you should ring the doorbell or call when you arrive in case the baby is napping. Plan your visit around mom and baby’s schedule and never drop by unannounced.

2. Don’t walk into a new mom’s house empty-handed

Bring food, supplies, and treats for mom and her family. Even if she insists that she doesn’t need anything, bring something. Home cooked meals that can be frozen and easily reheated are a great idea. Or try to schedule your visit around lunchtime, offering to bring a meal for both you and the new mom. If you bring lunch, come with all the essentials—bring napkins and utensils, even paper plates to minimize cleanup. If you drop off dinner, bring some items for breakfast the next day.

3. Wash your hands when you arrive

If a newborn gets sick, this can be a medical emergency. The best way to avoid illness is to practice good hygiene and hand washing. This should be the first thing that you do when you walk into the home of a new baby. Drop your things, put the food in the fridge and then wash your hands. Let the new mom know that you just sanitized, especially before asking to hold the baby.

Don’t bring illness with you. If you feel like you are coming down with something or your kid at home is sick, reschedule your visit for another time. The mom will not only understand but also be very appreciative of your consideration.

4. Offer to help with her to-do list

Do something around the house. If you’re close with the mom, do things without having to be asked, such as cleaning the dishes, folding the laundry or taking out the garbage. If you don’t know the mom well, offer to do a specific chore around the house, such as grabbing the mail, walking or feeding a pet, or checking something off of her to do list. This is better than asking if there’s anything you can do because out of politeness, she’ll likely say no. Every mom has a long to-do list and probably has very little time to get everything done. If a mom can’t think of anything offer to look at her to-do list and then check something off. 

For New Moms: Put a to-do list on the fridge. It’s a great way for you to remember what you need, but also for visitors to help check things off your list.

5. Get it yourself

If you’re visiting a new mom and she offers you something to drink, get it yourself. Sometimes on very few hours of sleep, manners aren’t at the forefront of a new mom’s mind. So, if she doesn’t offer you something and you would like something to drink, ask if you can get it yourself and offer something to her while you’re up. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this as a guest in someone’s home, come prepared with water or other essentials you may need during your visit.

6. Start a meal delivery train

Newborns eat every few hours, which leaves moms very little time for her own meal planning. By organizing a meal delivery train for a new mom and her family, she doesn’t have to ask her friends and family to prepare meals for her, and a meal train will ensure that meals are spread out over a few weeks. There are tons of services and online sign-ups to bring meals to new moms. Check out MealBaby, which is an online service that allows people to plan and organize all the details of a meal registry.