When visiting a new mother and baby there should be a rule. A principle that is common knowledge within the community and which no one questions and everyone respects.
Don’t ask to hold the baby.
Look, it doesn’t matter if you’re the grandmother, the great-great-aunt, her sister, or her bestie… Just don’t even think about it!
I still remember all too well the anxiety I felt in those early weeks when visitors came over and asked to hold my sweet, new baby.
Sure, I was hormonal, and felt fragile and vulnerable. But I just wanted to keep my baby in my arms or in the sling and I didn’t want to let her go.
I remember discussing this in detail with a friend at the time. Just recently she has had her own first baby and the subject came up again. Her take: “I totally get anxious when someone other than me, or my husband, or my mum is holding my baby” she said, “I now understand what you said!”
But we both folded to the pressure. Our babies were handed over to people when we weren’t comfortable doing so, just because we felt that it was the polite thing to do. I look back now and can’t believe I didn’t just say “no, not right now.” I couldn’t find my voice, I just didn’t know how.
What I can say is I will be far more assertive with my next newborn.
Another friend and new mother recently shared with me her situation with her baby and her mother-in-law. This was especially awkward, as her mother-in-law also happens to be a smoker. “How could I say no to a grandma holding her granddaughter, even though I knew how bad the cigarettes were?” she said. “Then my baby stunk of smoke. I felt like the worst mum ever.”
I remember asking my lovely midwife who had cared for me for my whole pregnancy and who was with me throughout my labour and birth, if she would like to have a cuddle of our baby when she was a few days old. It was a genuine offer. This woman had been such an incredible support to me and I wanted her to hold my baby! I will never forget what she said to me: “Oh honey, your baby doesn’t need to be held by me.”
And you know what? That is true. It had never really occurred to me before. Babies don’t NEED to be held by anyone other than their parents. They gain nothing from being passed around like a football, to being exposed to other people’s smell and energy. It is all for the benefit of the visitors, and not at all for the baby.
I can’t tell you how many times, as a midwife, I would come onto a night shift and spend the whole evening dealing with the fallout from the babies who had been passed around all afternoon during visiting hours. It was traumatic for the babies, who would spend the whole night unsettled and screaming, and equally as traumatic for the exhausted new mother.
“But grandparents (aunts, uncles, friends, elderly neighbours) need to bond with the baby too!” I hear you cry. Of course they do, but not in the first hours, days and weeks after birth. This is a time for mum and dad to fall in love with their new baby and a time for baby to adjust to life on the outside (and this is not always a smooth transition.) This process should not be interrupted. There is plenty of time down the track for cuddles with trusted, close family and friends.
There will be times when a new mother will desperately want someone else to hold and cuddle her baby. So she can, for example, finally eat her lunch, get up to have a shower, or have a nap. If you make yourself available, one of these situations is bound to come up. Then the mother will be grateful that there is someone she trusts to keeps watch over her precious bundle. So wait patiently, and your time to snuggle and enjoy the new baby will come.
Just try to be sensitive and make sure that this time is when she is good and ready, and it is on her own terms.
(Big thank you to my bestie Sarah and her baby Ella Spicer-Bell for allowing me to use this beautiful photo of them snuggling after birth.)