Envisioning what you want ahead of time
Bonding with baby
Avoiding visitor overload
Coordinating time off work
Laying ground rules
Advocating for yourself
Expressing your needs
Dealing with in-laws
Getting help with meals
Navigating the limitations of NYC apartments
Having someone advocate on your behalf
Avoiding visitor-scheduling stress
Important questions to ask yourself
Every family dynamic is different. Some new parents love having everyone around, helping out when the baby is born. Other moms and dads find it overwhelming, draining and exhausting. As you examine what kind of support system you need and the personalities you will have to manage, the consensus is from other new moms out there is that this time is about what YOU need, what YOU want, and what is best for YOU. YOU (with your baby, of course!) come first.
1) Delegate, delegate, delegate. Think of people around you as a team with roles and positions to play. Like a team, empower them to get results. Duties include things like laundry, cooking, cleaning, night shifts, grocery shopping.
“OK, seriously: DELEGATE. Pick a small team of serious helpers, people who know you and will do what you ask them to do. Your husband might or might not be the person to involve for this, it depends how he gets along with the rest of the family. In my case I have 3 friends who are straight-forward, efficient, ehm, true 'new yorkers'. I put them in charge of my mom and my sister and they handled car services, deliveries, planned museum tours when I needed to nap with the baby, interpreting, all sort of small things that people from out of town usually need help with. That and a meal service was the best thing I could possibly do. They teamed up and in the end, all 5 of them, and were actually able to become a wonderful support system, they did laundry, they left me alone when I needed it, they did night shifts with the baby so I could sleep, it was awesome, but I told them from the beginning to get organized among themselves and not ask me any question.
Having friends and family close and visiting is actually wonderful, you just need to make sure they understand it is a unique time of your life and they need to be independent, can't ask you where you keep the toilet paper a million times a day. :-) Once you empower them, they will do great!”
2) Say what you want and envision BEFORE the baby is born. It’s good to plan and think about what you want ahead of time.
“You are smart to think about this in advance, because the flood of visitors can be overwhelming, at a time when you are tired and don't want to care for anyone but your newborn. But your relatives cannot be mind-readers, so to speak. It would be GREAT to start talking to them about this now. An honest speech about how you're happy that they want to share in your excitement; but that you're a little concerned about being overwhelmed with visitors; and suggestions about how they could be the most helpful.”
3) Make sure there is bonding time with just you, your partner, and the baby. Alone time is crucial.
“I personally wanted time with my husband and baby. My husband is very sensitive to criticism and I knew that my mother (and his mother) would be quick to offer suggestions and to take over, when he should be learning on his own how to care for a baby. My mother in law sent an email about a month before the baby was due in which she detailed how she was going to hold the baby and kiss the baby and feed the baby and teach us how to take care of the baby. It was a huge turn off, especially because her ideas of child rearing are very different from ours (starting with my wish to breastfeed when she had bottle fed her kids and didn't really understand -or seem to care- how breastfeeding works). In our case our families all live 2 hours away, so people could come up for a day easily, or spend the night if needed. we were lucky that trips didn't need to be planned in advance.”
“That first week spent alone with my husband and daughter was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. I'm so happy we got that time together and - finally- so is my husband. He actually told me that he was glad I insisted on us having that time to ourselves.”
4) Be wary of visitors. Did you read that? Be very wary of visitors! This is a common issue for many new moms. Visitors can get exhausting and you should not be expected to do entertaining as you recover and take care of the little one.
Visitors at the hospital:
“I just had my first baby, and thought it might be helpful to pass this on. I had my parents come out for the birth and, while I was happy they were there, I found their daily visits exhausting. At the hospital, you're up at minimum every three hours, and sometimes every two, to feed the baby for an hour -- so it's an hour of sleep here, an hour there, and you're so tired from the birth to begin with. There are several mandatory classes that were required (at least at Cornell/NY Presbyterian, where I had the baby). And I found when I did have time where I wasn't feeding the baby or in a class, all I wanted to do was sleep. It was exciting that they got to meet the baby on his first day of life, but trying to entertain them -- or even just staying awake while they held the baby -- was pretty challenging. If I were doing it again, I would have them fly out after I'd gotten home. That's when I needed hands on deck to do laundry, cook food, etc.”
“The hospital visit exhausted me. They stayed a few hours, but I was struggling to stay awake during the whole time despite the pain killers making me very drowsy. I was barely back on solid food, and completely overwhelmed with dealing with a little baby that wouldn't stop crying during the night. I wish I had asked them to leave after an hour, max, but I was too out of it/afraid of hurting their feelings to say anything. When they insisted on visiting us at home the day they were leaving NY, which happened to be the day we came home from the hospital, we stood our ground and said no, however, and I'm really glad we did. We were both so out of our element and exhausted - me by childbirth and learning to spend 24 hours a day with this new baby, and my husband from the constant back and forth between home and the hospital, and taking care of everything else (including the dog) - that I think I would have lost it had I had to entertain visitors, or even just have visitors in our tiny apartment.”
Visitors at home:
Many parents advice to think about visitors in terms of their use to YOU and your baby. Ask yourself how helpful will guests be?
“How helpful will each of these guests be? One of the most important things will be feeding you and your husband. You will want people around who can cook/assemble a meal for you without your oversight. That includes going to the grocery without a list from you, picking up healthy foods (assuming that's what you want), and preparing things to eat when it's mealtime. Of course, someone willing to order food for each meal is fine, too. Anyone who cannot meet these requirements should visit you closer to the 6 week mark.”
Make sure visitors won’t interfere with bonding time:
“I wanted to chime in because in retrospect I really appreciate my mom's advice to me about this prior to our son's birth two years ago, which I'll pass along here. She reminded us that in the first weeks of our life with baby, any and all visitors should focus on taking care of us (my husband and I), so we could focus on learning to take care of our new baby and find our own, individual family rhythm. So, thinking of visitors as helping with things like cooking, cleaning, shopping but generally staying out of the way of infant bonding time of the nuclear family. Of course everyone is excited to meet the new baby, and you'll probably be excited to have the visitors, but I can't emphasize enough how true and appreciated I found this perspective. Getting to become a family and find a routine and your own way of doing naps, nursing, changes, etc. is very precious and while of course help can be good, I found it so important that we be allowed to find our own way. My parents totally "got it" and were a huge help while not imposing, whereas my in laws were much more high maintenance and more concerned with whether they got enough time with the baby. All this is to say, perhaps if you have a sense of which relatives can offer which kinds if support, when...some might be better suited for staying out of the way and honoring your developing relationship with your child, while some might be better to have visit later once a routine is established. I might not have thought of it this way or felt so strongly about this prior to our son's birth, but I definitely do in hindsight.”
Think about visitors and their personalities:
“I think you have to assess what type of visitors your relatives are likely to be. I just had my third and my dad is staying w us for two months to help me with the kids...and he's a great help, cleaning, doing laundry, playing w the kids, taking my son to preschool, he does it all and for him it's the greatest pleasure to just be with the kids! So that kind of relative visit is a god sent in the early days, even without older kids it's nice to have someone do cooking or cleaning or just hold the baby while you take a nap. Or help you with your first outings, doctor's visits etc. But some relatives might be more work than help, so you might try to hold their visit off....because you don't want to feel like you have to entertain folks or cook for them etc.”
They do say timing is everything - so think about WHEN you want relatives visiting:
“This can be so tricky. We had my mom and grandfather in California and in laws in Florida. We had to be very clear an honest about what we wanted. So I think step 1 is to really think about who you want and when. I knew I wanted our in laws around first because they would respect our boundaries and cook for us, which my mom wouldn't be able to do, I knew she would just take the baby and I wanted some time to bond and get to know my baby.”
Space visitors out:
“I agree that it's very hard to know what you'll want before the baby is born, but I had the opposite experience: I wanted both my mother and MIL there before the baby was born and then wished that it was just me, my husband, and the baby. You probably can't go wrong in spacing out the visitors. Having a lot of people around at once can be very overwhelming. Also, if your partner is going back to work after a week or two, a good time for a helpful visitor to come is that first week alone.”
“When I had my kids, we asked that only immediate family and my two best friends come to the hospital. Then when we got home from the hospital, my mom stayed with us for the first few days, and then my sister purposely came a couple of weeks later. Also, when other relatives and friends visited over the next bunch of weeks and months, we were not shy about telling them what would be helpful, e.g., please don't come at naptime, please brings some bagels (or whatever), maybe change diapers, and please mail these bills for me when you leave. I shamelessly put everyone to work! Maybe it was because I had twins, but for some reason visitors didn't seem to mind taking order from me, LOL.”
Make sure each visitor has a purpose:
“ I just wanted to add that it is worth thinking about how helpful (to you, your new baby, your husband) different people will be. My mother and sister (who both live in NYC so didn't require travel plans), would come over frequently in early weeks and actively help - hold/watch the baby so I could nap, do laundry (mom), bring food, etc. My in-laws were also lovely, but it was more like having visitors for me (i.e., not onerous but some work and feeling like I had to make sure they were fed/entertained/etc). Sometimes they too would ask what they could do, though, so have some good ideas in case anyone asks you this!”
“You have to tell the visitors what you want.”
Avoid visitors that are high maintenance:
“If you have any visitors that are truly high maintenance, such as very elderly parents, then that is very delicate emotionally. You don't want to hurt their feelings, but you might not be able to take care of them while you are trying to take care of the newborn and yourself. If you have good communications/relationship with them, you could consider having a diplomatic-yet-honest conversation with them about the timing of their visit. i.e., that it might be better for all concerned if they visited a little later, after you've gotten somewhat acclimated to your new life. If you cannot have that kind of conversation with them, then maybe you can enlist someone else (your husband, or a close friend or relative?) to help deal with your parents while you deal with the baby.”
5) Coordinate vacation days, sick day and parental leave.
“My husband was only able to take one week off after baby was born, which we spent alone the three of us, and my mother came up the second week to help me since I was stuck in bed all day, and unable to do anything due to the surgery. She was amazing during that time, doing all of my grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, and just letting me bond with my baby.”
“Also if you end up with a c- section like I did, my husband used up all the days while I was in hospital and while lots of family around... Basically we got home on a Saturday and he was back at work on Monday. If you can try to spread the days out and utilize all the helpers that want to be there those first weeks!”
7) Have ground rules.
“We decided to lay out certain ground rules, with the understanding that our mothers would more or less move in if we didn't Tell them what we wanted. The rules were: they could visit us in the hospital after the baby was born, to meet the baby and see us, but that we would want a full week post birth at home without family visitors. If they really, really wanted to visit during that week, they couldn't stay for more than 2 hours. (this would dissuade them from making the trip up just to visit) we asked friends who wanted to visit (and there were many) to bring food or otherwise help. No one was allowed to visit with out a purpose, because we were too exhausted to entertain. (my mother still remembers having to make sandwiches for well wishers in the days after I was born, when all she wanted to do was sleep). Once that week was over, they could visit but we had no room to host them at our apartment and they would have to stay elsewhere. I imagined wandering the apartment late at night and didn't want to bump into someone who would offer to take the baby (when he should be nursing) or otherwise be in my space. We also felt like we needed to be consistent about the rules and how we enforced them, even though I wouldn't have minded my mothers help and resented my mother in law. It wouldn't be fair otherwise.
There were some hurt feelings with this arrangement, but they were soon forgotten. My parents' timing was very late when visiting us at the hospital, so they were able to drive us home from the hospital. As soon as we were home, my mother started hovering and busying herself in the kitchen, and my father turned on the tv (the 2010 winter Olympics had started a few days earlier). It was exactly what I didn't want, and was glad that they left an hour or so later. When my son was a month or two old and my husband was back st work, my mother came for a night here and there during the week to help out. It worked much better for us as she wasn't subliminally pushing my husband out of the way, I needed the company at that point and could be clear what sort of assistance I needed (like doing some laundry or cooking something for us vs taking the baby, though I think she might have held him while I took naps or something).”
8) Remember, you are the queen. Focus on what you want, not your relatives or family members (other than your baby and partner, of course). As one mom shared: "If there is a time in your life to be bossy, this is it."
And another: “You have to think of being the queen for now...whoever is your closest relative or woman friend assign to be at your side. With all the social media that person could keep all troops inform with photos and updates. After the baby comes, don't feel that you have to entertain. You need rest, bonding with baby and time on your own. Maybe people could take turns to visit. When my children were born, I had a welcome to the earth, after a week or so with all relatives, my mom cooked. People mingle and saw the baby for a short time, but everyone felt part of the babies new life.
Think of yourself, first!”
9) Say what you want and feel.
“The only real advice I can offer is SAY, in advance, WHAT YOU WANT. This adventure is yours, your husband's and your new baby's. Allowing others to share in any and all parts is their privilege!! Easier said than done, I know, but keep it in mind!! And if someone gets offended, you can always blame it on hormones!”
10) Have boundaries.
“First, are you planning to breastfeed? If so, ask yourself who you will feel comfortable being topless around. The first couple of weeks (or more) you may not want anything touching your nipples except baby, and that includes clothing. My mom came and stayed with me for about a week and I was pretty much without a shirt the entire time.”
“I would start with what you think you would like in terms of support and figure it out from there. If you are breastfeeding you will probably be topless a lot of the time, so if you aren't comfortable with various people seeing you like that you should ask them to come another time. (my very modest sister in law actually gave up on breastfeeding because her stepfather was around and she didn't feel able to talk about her breasts in front of him, and her mother just kept suggesting a bottle of formula and that seemed easier in the moment.) This is a period that is crucial to you and your new family and they should come first; your extended family will have plenty of time to bond with the baby after you have had your own time. That said, The first three months can be really rough and some support is crucial. Just remember that the help doesn't have to come at the beginning.”
11) Know that you are going to be emotional. You feelings will be more intense. For YOU, for your partner, for all members of your family. And that’s OK.
“Also worth considering is the flow of emotions that tends to hit sometime in the first week and last for a while. When I was feeling it the most, I only wanted my mom. She was here for the beginning but then left and my husband's parents came right away. It was a little too much for me and I wish she had stayed a little longer (and they had stayed away a little longer!) I advise you not to underestimate this time, as I did. I thought it would be no big deal, just a little crying maybe, but mostly happy tears, right? Wrong wrong wrong. I was completely overwhelmed by how I felt about everything. You're also likely to be in some pain and that makes it more intense.”
12) Wondering how to deal with the the in-laws? Here’s what one mom shared:
“I was always clear with my husband that our families were our own responsibility. I didn't want to tell my in laws what and when, and I'm pretty sure they didn't want me telling either. It worked for me, not sure how it suited everyone else.”
13) Ask people to bring homemade foods.
“Ask people to bring you home made food that's as closed to eating state as possible.
a) you'll be sick of takeaways and frozen meals very quickly
b) you really don't want anyone messing up your kitchen unless they really clean it and put everything away to the right place afterwards, so have them cook it in their own home.
c) you're obviously not going to be in any condition to actually cook yourself.”
14) When Family wants to stay in the apartment... New York City - there is no place like it. And there is no place where space is at such a premium. Closets are converted into nurseries, living rooms are the spare bedroom and the home office is your kitchen table. Our city dwellings are hardly ideal for out of town visitors and guests - especially when you have had a baby.
“Whew, forget about giving birth, managing my mother and my sister IN my apartment at the same time was THE challenge!”
“We also made a decision that anyone coming had to stay in a hotel because we were in a one bedroom and I wanted to be able to not worry at night about waking anyone while up with our baby. So both in laws and my family stayed at the best western on fourth ave and 26th (or close to there). We were in South Slope so that worked for us. We also wanted to stagger visitors so as not to get overwhelmed. So the in laws came about a week after our gal was born. Then my mom came a little while after they left.”
“Do you have a spare bedroom for people to stay with you? If not, I would suggest that all guests (except maybe mom and sister, see above) stay at a nearby hotel or with a close friend if that's reasonable. Those first six weeks or so are filled with long days that get even longer when your guests have nowhere to go at the end of the day and all you want to do is watch a little tv with your hubby before passing out... at 8:00 pm. Again, without a shirt on.”
15) Have someone to help manage and advocate on your behalf.
“I opted out of navigating the befores and after and wish I had! Basically everyone did what they wanted and of course help was too concentrated at the birth. But our doula was incredible at managing them so my husband could be with me.”
16) Don’t let scheduling visitors stress you out.
“As far as people for your birth that is also hard because unless you are scheduled ahead of time to deliver and there's no way to know. I was 11 days late so I even told our family to wait til we were in labor to decide when to come. So glad we did that because I didn't want any of them at the birth and had we worked around my due date they would have been around stressing us out. Can your sister come at the drop of a dime? It would stink for her to come and have to return home if she doesn't have unlimited time to visit...and still no baby.”
“Since there is no way to predict exactly when your baby will be born, I would say to use the latest possible date (say, ten days after your due date unless you want to push it the full 2 weeks - which would be fine of course) and plan your guests visits from there. The absolute LAST thing you will want is added stress so if you know that certain people do not get along that well or make you uncomfortable for any reason, do not schedule their visits to coincide and do not schedule them during the first two weeks, at least. Have the least stressful people visit first and put a couple of days in between arrivals and departures. As far as your sister being present for the birth, how long is she able to spend with you and how badly do you want her here when you go into labor? Those are the two questions that should drive your decision. There's no way to tell when your baby will come so unless she can be here for a month or more, you'll just be guessing. It may be more important that she is here to support you afterwards, in which case, she should probably just wait for that exciting text or call from you saying, "it's time," to buy her plane ticket.
Finally, you will obviously have to do this your own way and the wisdom of others will only go so far. You'll probably do things you'll wish you hadn't done and that's okay, you'll get through it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, please keep that in mind. Try to surround yourself with the people who will wait on you hand-and-foot and who make you feel good to be around. Good luck!”
“It really depends on your relationship with your family. Having a baby is emotional for everyone, and I think there tend to be some growing pains for everyone involved. Do you want your family to be there? Will you want some time alone with your new little one? How much time will your husband have off? How direct can you be with your family if they are there and you just want some time to snuggle with the baby and sleep? Do their ideas mesh with yours in terms of how to care for the baby?