The birth of a child is in some ways a community event. Family and friends want to share their joy at new life being brought into the world.
For the parents, though, birth is a series of deeply intimate, emotionally draining moments. Will the baby bond with me? How will breastfeeding go? And at the center are two stressed, sleep-deprived people.
When these two worlds clash, conflict is often close behind. Gracefully navigating this boundary is more about manners than medicine, says Robert Chong, MD, an AdventHealth pediatrician.
Aside from the basic, common-sense measures — wash your hands, don’t come if you’re sick — the “right” way to visit a newborn is whichever way Mom decides it is.
These tips are written from the perspective of a visitor, but if you’re having a baby you can think of them as reasonable expectations, too. Don’t hesitate to ask visitors to stick to them.
Think of the Germs
Dr. Chong files much of this advice under common sense, but it’s important to spell it out. A newborn’s immune system can’t fight off disease very well, so visitors need to be careful.
That includes the following:
- Wash Your Hands Before Picking Up or Touching the Baby
- Don’t Visit If You Have a Cough, Runny Nose or Other Contagious Illness
- Leave Kids and Pets at Home
“They may ask if it’s okay to bring kids, and the mom may say yes because she feels obliged, but no new parents want a toddler or small child coming in while they’re trying to get some rest,” Dr. Chong says.
Some parents ask about the risk of whooping cough, or pertussis. Long-term caregivers of a child should get vaccinated. Although there’s no absolute requirement for healthy visitors to get this shot just for brief visits, most probably need their tetanus booster anyway, which has the pertussis component attached to it.
2. Assume New Boundaries
You may have a close relationship with the new mother and assume that you’ll be welcome to visit the newborn. That may not be the case.
“When you have a newborn baby, it really changes you,” Dr. Chong says. He recommends asking twice: Once in advance of the birth and again just before you visit.
“Quite often the mother is stressed, emotional and sleep-deprived,” he explains. “It’s quite common for a mother to change her mind” about a visit.
You should also always ask permission to hold, touch or kiss a baby.
“It’s one thing if the parents ask you if you’d like to hold the baby and you wash your hands, but don’t just pick up the baby without permission,” Dr. Chong says.
Oh, and avoid taking any selfies. Mom may grin and humor you, but she also may not want to be photographed.
3. Keep It Short
The parents may look like they’ve got plenty of time, but they’re busy. The mother is likely working on breastfeeding, bonding and catching up on sleep. (If you’re looking for breastfeeding tips, check out this post.)
Whether you’re at home or the hospital — and if you can, wait until they’re home — try to limit visits to 20–30 minutes, Dr. Chong says.
4. Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice
When you visit the newborn, you should congratulate and compliment the new parents. But keep the focus on the baby and mother instead of your own experiences, unless you’re asked.
It’s also nice to bring a small gift or card. If you’re visiting in the hospital, don’t bring something the parents will have to lug home. For a home visit, food is often a welcome gift.
Consider asking if there’s anything you can do to make their lives a bit easier. It might be something small, like walking the dog, but to busy new parents it can be a huge help.
5. Wait a Few Months Before a Big Outing
The weeks after birth aren’t the time to take the baby to church or a barbecue.
Dr. Chong says there’s no firm cutoff for when it’s safe for the baby to be around crowds. But he recommends waiting until two weeks after their two-month vaccinations.
“Waiting after these vaccinations gives their body enough time to mount some defense against diseases that can be very harmful early on,” he notes.
That said, if you can avoid exposing a baby to a busy place, it’s best to decline such invitations.
6. Think of the Partner, Too
Though mom and baby will get most of the attention, it’s nice for visitors to take a moment to speak with her partner.
“Partners often feel a bit neglected during this process, so it’s always a good idea to acknowledge, compliment and congratulate them as well,” Dr. Chong says.
On the whole, a visit to a newborn shouldn’t be an expectation. If you’re a new parent, he says not to hesitate to ask for it if you’d like some privacy.
“As a parent, you’re the one making the rules and you have every right not to have any visitors,” he says.
AdventHealth for Women believes safeguarding a new mom’s emotional and spiritual health is part of being her advocate. A mom’s birth experience is sacred, and we want to do everything we can to support her.