Where's your village?
Friends < workplace. Next-level support. Follow-up survey.
Last October, I shared this chart and asked why friends are generally not good at giving new moms support.
This week, I spotlight how friends can give meaningful support after a baby arrives.
To dissect this, I combined expert interviews, hundreds of new mom perspectives, and more to make a support roadmap. And to give new moms ideas of what to request.
Not normal norms
First, consider why new moms often feel under-supported.
My interview with the founder of Midwife Cafe and the Professional Postpartum Care Provider Organization, Jacky Bloemraad-de Boer, gave a helpful perspective to understand the status quo.
She described how Western cultures generally take a biomedical view of birth. This means monitoring a new mom for things like bleeding and infection after the baby is born. Then she is sent home with almost no follow-up.
“This model suggests that couples should be going it alone. It’s total misinformation,” Jacky explained.
Being left to figure it out the first few weeks after birth isn’t just isolating.
It overlooks the social and emotional aspects of this life change. And it sets unrealistic pressure on a new mom and her partner.
These missed expectations add stress. And makes under-preparing for the experience more likely.
Perhaps unsurprising then that new (and experienced) moms often feel the first months after birth are more difficult than expected.
What do I need
To think through what to offer - or to ask for - let’s walk through the needs of new moms.
While circumstances vary widely, the fundamentals follow a pattern.
Maslow’s Hierarchy is an iconic outlining of needs that guide people. It says that people must have their basic physical needs met before they can focus on social connections or identity. You’ve probably seen his pyramid:
You’ve got a friend
These elements also fit my research on the types of support that new moms find most effective - and how this changes over time.
Here’s an outline of the types of support new moms need throughout the first few months:
Meals, and household help for basic needs
This is to help new parents rest, especially when they get home from the hospital. A common way is by giving meals. Such as by setting up a meal train, sending a food delivery gift card, or dropping off fresh or frozen meals.
For household tasks, I repeatedly heard that generic “how can I help” offers felt insincere.
But when friends ask, “Can I come by on Thursday to do your laundry and dishes?” it felt meaningful.
So be specific.
For ideas, here’s the most common household support from friends mentioned (in no particular order):
Washing the dishes,
Doing the laundry (babies make a ton),
Receiving a cleaning service gift card, or
Taking older children or pets out, such as for a trip to the park.
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References and resources for psychological safety
About a week in, breastfeeding challenges will be apparent, hormones are raging, and weird things like night sweats appear. Charting unfamiliar territory with your recovery and your baby’s development is stressful.
Googling to feel better equipped is helpful. Having a chat group to help troubleshoot oddball questions is also reassuring.
But sometimes the support needed is bigger and more personal. Experienced family and friends are particularly well-positioned to help new parents find resources, such as recommending a lactation consultant or a support group.
Chats and check-ins to feel belonging
Feelings of isolation, boredom, or loneliness are relatively common in the first 3 months after delivery.
After the initial excitement wore off, I found caring for a newborn sometimes felt like holding up a glass of water - all day. It was busy and boring at once.
In my interviews, new moms that felt well supported by their friends mentioned things such as having:
Ongoing group chats to feel connected,
A close friend that checked in for a quick coffee or to hold the baby, or
Experienced friends that call to commiserate.
Of note, referencing this level of support was uncommon. But when mentioned, moms often highlighted these interactions as the most meaningful to them.
Offer recognition to build esteem
Building this involves feeling confident in your mom style as it develops. And feeling the amount of time and effort it takes to be a new mom is recognized.
To illustrate, I sat around and held my baby - a lot. It was needed, but it also made me feel quite useless - like I wasn’t pulling my weight at home or when we hosted friends.
Hearing reassurance from my friends and husband that lounging on the couch with a baby was an important task - so I shouldn’t feel guilty - mattered.
What did I miss? How does this compare to your experience?
Please share in the comments below, or reply and tell me.
P.S. If this discussion was helpful, consider supporting it by sharing this email.
P.P.S. If you missed taking my follow-up mat. leave experience survey to get perspective and feedback for my book; click here.
Check On Mom: A free online tool from Sage Therapeutics (a biopharma company) that helps new and expecting moms access support and find resources.
Meal Train: Another free online tool. It helps friends organize meal drop-offs for new parents.
Pregnant Then Screwed: A UK-based charity and advocacy group dedicated to helping young working moms. It champions topics such as access to affordable daycare and combatting workplace discrimination.
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