The 3 Cs You Need To Keep In Mind When Caring For New Parents
By Karen Green
PHOTO © LSOphoto/Getty Images
May 27, 2019
“Did I just sit there and let you fold my underwear?”
My very capable, very competent, currently very tired brother-in-law seemed at equal turns amused and horrified by his realization.
... we handled the tasks that would have distracted the couple from their most important job: getting to know their brand-new babe and their own brand-new roles as Leo’s parents.
“You sure did,” I said to him, “but that’s what we’re here for.” Kevin nodded, and proceeded upstairs, to where his wife and newborn son were waiting.
I've often heard the recovery time immediately following birth referred to as a "lying-in," or the "fourth trimester," and this past August my older sister Jennifer and I were part of such a lying-in when we spent ten days looking after our youngest sister, Karla, and her brand new family after the birth of their son.
Our qualifications for the job were simple — we were her sisters, mothers ourselves, and experienced in the three most important things a new family needs from others during those early, topsy-turvy days postnatal: cooking, comfort and crowd control.
Karla took care of baby Leo, husband Kevin took care of Karla and we took care of everything else.
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From filling their freezer with healthy meals to receiving well-wishers while the trio enjoyed snippets of sleep, we handled the tasks that would have distracted the couple from their most important job: getting to know their brand-new babe and their own brand-new roles as Leo’s parents.
And let’s face it — for me and Jen, this was not a completely altruistic assignment. The experience of being there for Karla and Kevin’s first days as parents and for Leo’s first days on Earth was an unmatchable joy and privilege.
Even if you don’t have the ability or opportunity to stay with new parents for a prolonged length of time, you can easily adjust to achieve the same during an afternoon visit or even from a distance. You may just have to engage other methods of delivering food, comfort and care — and find a different way to mortify your sleep-deprived brother-in-law.
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New parents need nutritionally dense, readily available food — and lots of it! My advice is to keep meals simple, healthy and fresh.
- A new mother's body is going through some mega changes, so our meal plans were based on foods to help support lactation, hormone fluctuation and sleep deprivation (then adjusted for lifestyle and preferences). By the way, new dads are always ravenous and not picky.
- One-handed snacks are a must. We kept a full container of cut-up veggies and hummus on the counter almost constantly. Smoothies are another great option since they're quick, nutritious and customizable.
- Make meals available for whenever the parents are ready to eat. They were adjusting to the baby’s unpredictable schedule, so we kept plates of food in the fridge to warm up when Karla and Kevin were ready. And the few times Jen and I went out on our own, we brought home leftovers and takeout for late-night meals.
- Filling the freezer was a goal for us. We batch-cooked soups, stews, casseroles and other savory dishes then froze them in containers that were sized for Kevin and Karla to enjoy together once we left. We challenged ourselves to fill the entire freezer in the basement before we left — mission accomplished!
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Jen and I have a combined total of 45 years of parenting between us, and though we tried to only offer advice when asked, we did jump in with the hands-on practical stuff you can only learn from more experienced parents!
- It’s all about balance with new parents. They have to figure out what their baby needs while getting to know him, but it doesn’t have to be sink or swim. Not all parenting is intuitive, so we were happy to offer tips and tricks that could make those early days a little easier.
- Lend an ear when spending time with new parents. You might know that it gets easier (then harder, then easier, then they’re teens), but don’t dismiss a new mum’s concerns about the quality of a swaddle or a new dad’s habit of tracking all of his baby’s bodily functions. Your support will help grow their confidence.
- But lend a hand when you can. That means you may get to hold the baby while someone takes a shower, but it also means washing the dishes, cleaning, doing the laundry and all the other things that fall right off of a new parent’s radar. They’ll appreciate it even if they don’t notice it at the time.
Everybody wants to meet a new baby, but a constant stream of visitors is exhausting. Part of our role was to be the de-facto hosts if people came over and Karla, Kevin and Leo were indisposed or just needed a bit more time before greeting their guests.
- You’re not a bouncer, but you’re a little bit of a security guard. Don’t wake up sleeping parents unless they have specifically asked you to. And don't send guests in before checking to see if the parents are up and available for them. It's OK if you have to tell guests that the parents aren’t quite ready yet, so play the messenger!
- Remember all that food? You’re still on tap to handle it. That means managing whatever goodies the guests have brought as well as offering something to visitors. Plan for a separate stash for guests so that the food you’ve prepared for the new parents remains for them.
- Stay out of the new parents’ way when they are visiting or when midwives, lactation consultants or other health care supporters come over. Jen and I enjoyed visits with family and friends we knew as well, but we were sensitive to overcrowding, interrupting intimate moments or invading privacy. If it seemed like we weren’t needed, we stayed out of the way.
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