Helping a New Mom

Simple ways you can provide what the new mom really needs
by Salle Webber, postpartum doula in Santa Cruz, CA; author of The Gentle Art of Newborn Family Care

A NEW BABY!

Babies are born every day…perhaps even to you or someone you know well, a sister, daughter, friend, neighbor or your partner. Birth is so common…yet so profound and mysterious. Maybe you’ve never cared for a tiny newborn before, or maybe it was 30 years ago, and things have changed so much.

In any case, there are simple ways of providing the new mom and baby with what they need. The needs are primarily physical, yet the attitude with which they are met can make a huge difference.

WILL SHE BE DEPRESSED?

We have all heard about postpartum depression. Some of us believe it’s an inevitable part of the birth package. But it is not. Depression emerges primarily due to physical exhaustion and depletion, and the action of stress hormones, compounded with feelings of isolation and being overwhelmed. A mother whose needs for nourishment and rest are met, and who feels supported by her mate/family/community, can weather the hormonal fluctuations, sleepless nights, and the demands of a newborn with perhaps some tears and a bit of the blues, but only temporarily if at all.

SO WHAT ARE THE MOTHER’S NEEDS?

FIRST, A COMFORTABLE PLACE TO BE WITH HER BABY

Gentle Art of Newborn Family Care by Salle WebberA new mother and baby need the security of a safe, clean place that they can rest, off the beaten path if possible, where stimuli are minimized. Generally this is a bedroom, set up with diaper-changing necessities, clean blankets and baby clothes, plenty of pillows to support nursing comfort, mother’s water, snack, phone, etc. Mother and infant need to rest quietly together, feeding on demand, napping intermittently, provided with food and water, as well as opportunities for mother to get up and shower and attend to her personal physical needs.

LOTS OF WATER

Abundant fluids are necessary to the woman recovering from the stress and fluid losses of childbirth.  And she is providing, through her body, all the nourishment her child requires to live and grow. To avoid dehydration, we encourage mothers to drink lots of water, warm teas, and diluted juices. A full glass of fresh water next to her when she is breastfeeding will encourage a woman’s intake, as well as keeping her water glass full when she is resting. Many herbal teas encourage milk production, and are healthy and delicious. Offer to brew a cup of warm fragrant tea for her; it will lead to relaxation and rest.

GOOD FOOD

Nutritious food is imperative. Mothers need fresh, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, meats and poultry, eggs, and whole grains. Stimulants like caffeine and sugar should be avoided or minimized…yet at the same time, we don’t want to deprive a new mother of her favorite foods…so maybe a cookie or slice of pizza or a cup of decaf if it makes her feel better emotionally. There is a delicate balance between providing the optimum environment physically and meeting emotional needs. A new mother who is struggling with the many demands made on her may need her favorite comfort foods to assure her that she is still important…it’s not ALL about the baby! Breastfeeding requires an additional 500 or more calories each day, so encourage mother to enjoy hearty meals and discourage ingesting empty calories in favor of good nutrition. Preparing delicious meals for her will be the best way to get her eating well, also providing frequent snacks of fruit, cheese, etc., depending on her personal preferences and eating habits. You can organize friends to provide dinners for the new family, clarifying food preferences,  allergies, or limitations. Ask them to drop meals off, without expectation of being invited in or spending time unless specifically requested to do so. Sometimes visitors can exhaust a new mother, so attention to her energy level is important when visiting. By the way, some women have very little appetite for the first couple days after birth, but this changes when the milk begins flowing. Just keep offering nutritious food, soon her desire for it will kick in.

REST AND SLEEP

One of the most important needs of a new mother is for rest. Not only has she grown a human being inside her body, and given birth to it with great exertion from both mother and child, but now her body continues to provide sustenance for the child. Milk production places big demands on the female body, the manufacturing process continues day and night. She is healing from the challenges of childbirth, in some cases surgery. This organism requires rest! And more rest! Her nights will be wakeful for quite a while, that is as it should be, so daytime sleeping is essential. She must sleep when the baby sleeps, or when someone else can tenderly care for the newborn. Sometimes mothers enjoy having the whole bed to themselves, door shut, knowing the child is being well cared for, and can turn off the auto-aware pilot to sleep deeply, refreshingly.

WHAT ELSE?

Beyond these four essentials of a cozy clean nest, abundant fluids, nourishing food, and rest, there are other things friends can do to support harmony in the home of a newborn. Tidying up around the house, sweeping floors, washing dishes, wiping counters, the things parents do all day to keep the ship afloat. Cycling the laundry, making sure the trash goes out, offering to pick up and deliver groceries or other necessities, these are things the new mother needs to have done for her. Her work is to strengthen and heal her body, and to feed, care for and get to know her infant. Yet the household needs attention. Most likely her partner is also sleep-deprived and in a somewhat altered state. So attending to these simple yet vital tasks is extremely helpful to everyone.

MORE ABOUT FOOD

We have mentioned food preparation, but it deserves more discussion. It is difficult to prepare food with a baby in arms. Simple finger foods like nuts, dried fruits, cheese sticks, precooked meats, cut-up fruits and vegetables, or leftovers may be the easiest way for a mother to feed herself when she’s alone. Stock her refrigerator with easy to reach and easy to eat foods. When you are present to help her, offer to cook a meal, make a sandwich, prepare something for later. Making salads or prepping the vegetables, starting a pot of rice or putting a chicken in the oven to roast, these are often appreciated ways to assist.  When you arrive, inquire if she has had breakfast or lunch, you can’t assume she has found time to eat. And may I remind you again, fill her water glass every chance you get.

OLDER SIBLINGS NEED CARE TOO

If there are other children in the family, you can be a huge help with them, especially if you have a long-term relationship already established. This birth represents a mighty change in a child’s life, and not to be taken lightly. Older kids need to continue their routines and activities, to have their needs met as always, and to feel important. Friends or grandparents can invite children on special activities, and provide companionship. Take the time to read together, or play, make a snack, draw a picture for new baby. Mothers of the children’s friends are in a perfect position to provide the new mom some peace and quiet by inviting her kids to play at the friend’s house. Maybe even dinner or a sleepover, if appropriate. Also vital is for each child to have time with mommy, with and without the baby. This is a developing lifelong relationship, and creating an atmosphere of love and acceptance supports sibling harmony. Occasionally carrying the baby into another room as mother snuggles with an older sibling can provide just what the child and mother need, a return to their deep and abiding connection. A mother is acutely aware of how this new baby’s presence changes the relationships within the family, and it serves her well-being if she sees that her older child is content and has needs met. It can be exhausting for a mother to try to care for everyone. Your service to her kids brings relief to her mind and heart.

DO WHAT YOU CAN

These aforementioned tasks are not difficult to accomplish. What is required is willingness to do what needs to be done. Many mothers don’t like to ask for help. So if you see the kitchen floor needs sweeping, just pick up the broom and do it. Offer to start a load of laundry, and try to see it into the dryer, maybe even folded and put away. Call on your way over and ask if anything needs to be picked up at the store. Do what you can to make the new mother’s day a little easier and more pleasant. You can support successful breastfeeding by helping the mother and baby get comfortable, providing pillows and water, encouragement, enthusiasm, and maybe a diaper change.  Be aware of not tiring her with lots of chatter, but try to focus on what you can do to help her and her infant.

IT’S SO LITTLE!

Don’t let the size of this baby fool you…though tiny and helpless, he or she is an enormous presence in the life of these parents, the new focus and center-point of the family. Precisely due to this helplessness, we must do our best to help the child to be comfortable as we welcome her or him into the community.

ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

Your attitude can make a big difference. Don’t lose sight of the miraculous nature of this situation. Remember to be grateful that you are present to witness this new life unfolding like a perfect rose. Maintain a sense of deep respect for this mother and child who have changed the world. Acknowledge with her the immensity of this transition. The infant deserves tender care and protection, and if you are invited in to this sacred space, please go forth serenely. Your reverence will permeate the atmosphere….as you roll up your sleeves and get to work!

Thank you for your caring support.

HOW TO HELP…THE BASICS

• Settle mother and child in a clean and comfortable “nest”, and offer to change sheets whenever necessary

• Provide the mother with nutritious food

• Provide her with abundant fluids: water, warm teas

• Encourage her to sleep whenever possible, when the baby is sleeping or when another person is holding the baby. When not sleeping, resting in a horizontal position is helpful

• Find opportunities when you can care for the infant so mother can shower, brush teeth, etc.

• Assist her to breastfeed by seeing she’s comfortable, has water nearby, perhaps burping the baby or changing a diaper after the feeding. Remind her to relax her shoulders and bring extra pillows if necessary

• Prepare a meal for the family

• Organize a “meal tree” for friends to provide dinners for the new family

• Do the laundry

• Clean up the kitchen

• Entertain the older children and meet some of their needs.

• Pick up groceries and other necessities and deliver to the home

• Offer a foot, neck, or shoulder massage

• Be available to listen, share the wonder, offer emotional support as needed. You don’t need to be able to fix everything for the new mother, but your willingness to hear her story is your gift to her.

• Suggest a call to a health-care practitioner or lactation consultant if questions arise. More information is always helpful, and no question from new parents is foolish.

One friend can not provide everything the family needs. It takes a village. See from the above list where you can help. If you can provide any of these services, you will be a true source of assistance to the new family. Your loving care will always be part of their memories of the early tender weeks.  Enjoy the opportunity to share this special time.

For more ideas about how to help, see my book, The Gentle Art of Newborn Family Care, available from Praeclarus Press, or from Amazon.

© 2013-2018 Salle Webber, all rights reserved.  
 
Salle Webber, has a BA psychology from Hampton University.  She has been serving families with newborns as a professional postpartum doula in Santa Cruz County, CA since 1988. Her book “The Gentle Art of Newborn Family Care,” a guidebook for postpartum caregivers, has recently been published by Praeclarus Press. Based on the wisdom gained through sharing in the experiences of numerous families and babies over 25 years, Salle’s book offers a look at how the professional and non-professional alike can best support a new family. Salle lives in the redwood forest of Felton, CA with her husband and 30 chickens. Their three children and six grandchildren are all close by.

Postpartum Doula & Care Provider Skills Workshop – January 28 & 29, 2017

Presented by Salle Webber, postpartum doula in Santa Cruz, CA.15626309_1876894915874576_5895929049308780616_o.jpg

Start the new year off by right with this informative workshop on newborn care in sunny Phoenix, AZ.  Postpartum doula Salle Webber will teach the basics of effective infant care for new and experienced doulas and lay caregivers. Register by January 15, 2017 and save $50. Contact Salle to register and for more information.

Salle Webber contact info

My Dad

Recently a friend’s facebook question about good dads caused me to ponder my own father and our relationship. My dad left the family early on, and though he hovered on the periphery of our lives and made rules and decisions that would affect us, the emotional connection was entirely severed, and I was frequently hurt by his disinterest which was not disguised. At a time when men seldom left their families in my small town, the humiliation added to the shame I felt that my dad didn’t want to be with us. As the years passed, we sometimes went a year or more without communicating. After having children, I became more attentive to the idea of my kids knowing their grandparents. My mother had passed away when I was 17, so as a motherless young mother, I wanted my new family to have some connection. I tried to get along with my dad, who had remarried the minute my mother died. Every visit became strained as our personal ideologies clashed and my lifestyle didn’t meet his standards. Yet we continued to see each other now and then. I had made the move from east to west coast and then to Hawai’i, conveniently making family visits rare.

During one particularly stressful period where I was feeling pressured by him to do things his way rather than mine (foolish, worthy of scorn), I attended a spiritual retreat where the words of St. Francis of Assisi were shared, “We are not here to be understood; We are here to be understanding.” For some reason it was my day to really hear that…suddenly I realized that I spent my life trying to get him to understand me…if only he did, he’d like me, maybe even love me. I’m nice, I have strong ideals and a compassionate spirit, but he never seemed to be able to see that. What if there’s more to him than I can see as well? What if I could let go of needing to explain myself to him but instead made an effort to understand him? That boy whose parents divorced in his teen years, and who never healed the relationship with either parent, as far as I could see. The chill between them was painful to witness. The young man, the army, marriage, fatherhood, growing a business, wanting what he didn’t have and deciding to take it, the hell with convention and the kids and what people think. I looked at how others saw him, the great host, the smiling innkeeper, the one others followed. He knew how to make people happy, and spent a lot of effort doing that. It was sad that he was unable to express to his own kids the warmth that others seemed to feel from him, yet I knew his fake smile so well, I saw him flash it at others and I received it many times myself. I looked at how he came to his political and social views, his life so different from mine, the results of his experience bringing him to an entirely different ideology. I knew that he wasn’t totally happy. I knew he had unspoken regrets. I realize that he kept his feelings inside, actually the young me was one that could rouse him to express anger! But never tenderness. Oh, I wanted that so badly. But I digress.

As time passed and I maintained my mantra of being understanding, our visits became smoother and more pleasant. I avoided topics I knew we would never agree on. I was careful how I expressed myself. I showed appreciation for the things he did for my kids. I stopped making it about me. The hard edges began to soften between us. I made a point of hugging and kissing him at the beginning and end of each visit, still only once a year at best. He began to accept these shows of affection with more grace.

When my dad’s health began to fail, I was involved in his caregiving. I visited several times over the course of two years, staying several weeks away from my family each time. At the end, it was me and my siblings who moved in with him and his wife, sharing caregiving and household maintenance. It was 24/7 for a month or so. He by then had shed his personality and become a more essential human being. But helpless, needy, weak. I am a caregiver by profession and by nature. He seemed to sense that and often would ask for me to be the one to patiently feed him the few bites he could manage, slowly, or to help him move from bed to chair. To be asked for by my dad, now that was special! Something I’d waited for all my life. When he breathed his last breath, I was at his head, holding him along with my sister and brothers. It was a powerful moment, a powerful month. The gratitude I felt at his release, the thanks I gave for the healing I had experienced, were enormous. The burden of my failure as a daughter had weighed me so heavily for so long. I put down that heavy load and exulted in tears of release as we let his ashes go deep into the Gulf of Mexico on an early August morning.

Reading at Orinda Books

An essay I wrote, “Professional Grandmother,” was just published in an anthology,  Wondrous Child: The Joys and Challenges of Grandparenting.

Look for it at your local indie bookstore.

I was invited to read at the lovely Orinda Bookstore, May 10th.  Thanks to the anthology editor Lindy Hough, and to all who attended.  I look forward to many more readings when my book, The Gentle Art of Newborn Family Care; A Guide for Doulas and Caregivers comes out this fall from Praeclarus Press.

I’m available to speak at birth-related symposiums and conferences.

Salle Webber reading at Orinda Books