There’s no way around it: Those early days with a newborn are hard. From dealing with the sleep deprivation and issues that may arise with keeping your new baby fed and healthy, not to mention balancing all the additional housework — the challenges of a newborn may seem endless. Luckily, our friends, family and coworkers are often there to help us, though they may not always know how to help in a meaningful way.
“Some new parents have a hard time asking for help or knowing what they need,” says Brea Loewit, certified nurse practitioner, board certified lactation consultant and childbirth educator.
As a result, she says, friends and family may struggle with how to help a new mom or dad.
“One thing I would suggest for a friend or visitor is to not wait for them to ask,” Loewit says.
Loewit has helped countless friends and families support their loved ones through what she says is often a challenging transition. In her experience, Loewit says, “Help in action works best.”
Below, parents share eight helpful actions their friends and family took to ease their stress as they welcomed home a new baby.
1. Feed them
Even when you’re inundated with the responsibilities that come with a new baby, you and your family still need to eat. That’s why food gifts are so appreciated.
“Casseroles or frozen meals are always a good standby,” Loewit says. “Or bring a meal for all to share. Someone can hold the baby so the parents can eat a hot meal.”
A food delivery gift card to Grubhub will do the trick, says Loewit, while Elizabeth Collins, mom of one of Los Angeles, says a home-cooked meal was one of the best gifts she and her husband received.
“Not many people of my generation cook,” Collins says, “so I was truly amazed and it made a huge difference.”
Lia Picard, Atlanta mom of one, says her friend started a meal train.
“It was a great way for friends nearby to meet the baby and make sure we were nourished,” Picard says. “Friends in other cities were able to participate by having food delivered via Uber Eats.”
2. Don’t forget the sweets
If you think your cravings will stop just because you’ve given birth, think again. Healthy meals are nice, but according many parents, so are sweet indulgences.
“Coffee drinks seem to be big,” says Loewit. If you’re coming for a visit, “ask mom what her favorite coffee drink is and bring it by.”
Kathleen Laux, mom of one, of Palmyra, New Jersey, says she was most grateful for the box of doughnuts a friend with keys left in their home after they returned from the hospital.
“The weird thing is, I don’t even like doughnuts,” says Laux. “But I loved those! I remember in my haze the first few days grabbing and taking bites from those doughnuts. They gave me comfort and reminded me to take pleasure in the little things while I was knee-deep in ‘Omg, what am I doing?’”
Fairfield, California, mom of two Rose Whitney Mishaan says the most memorable item in the care package her brother and sister-in-law sent was a chocolate babka.
“It sounds silly, but it made me so happy!” she says.
3. Help with the other children
Make no mistake: First-time parents may be gobsmacked by the arrival of a newborn, but parents with older children have challenges of their own.
“I hear from a lot of parents about the challenge of keeping an older sibling’s routine,” says Loewit.
Friends and family can help ensure this happens.
San Diego mom of two Maggie May Ethridge says after she had her last baby, the biggest help was having people offer to take her older daughter to school or pick her up.
“Getting a break from readying an infant for a car ride at the crack of dawn in the cold was a relief,” Ethridge says.
With the arrival of baby No. 2, Columbus, Ohio, mom of two Chelsea Skaggs also needed help with her firstborn. She says the best gift her friends and family gave her was taking her older child for playdates so he got special and fun time for himself after such a huge shift.
“It took some guilt from me and gave us time just with the baby,” Skaggs says.
4. Help with the housework
Expectant parents often spend the last month or so of pregnancy preparing their home, so it can be somewhat dismaying when labor comes as a surprise, sending them in a mad rush to the hospital, only to return home with a newborn to dirty dishes and unmade beds. Even if the baby arrives according to plan, the transition at home can still feel chaotic.
Loewit calls this new postpartum period “survival mode.”
“It can feel like a tiny little person requires all your time,” she says. “Before you know it, you haven’t peed or showered, let alone touched dishes or laundry or cleaned the toilet. Helping with housework can free up mental and physical energy for parents to use for healing and bonding with the baby.”
Lizzie Duszynski, a mom of two from Chicago, had a planned C-section last summer for her second baby.
“While I was in the hospital, my sisters and mom cleaned my house from top to bottom and filled it with the most delicious smelling pink lilies,” she says.
After the birth of her first son in 2006, Heather Mundt, mom of two, of Longmont, Colorado, says the last thing she wanted to do was housework, so she felt very grateful when one thoughtful neighbor paid for their cleaning lady to do Mundt’s house, as well.
“It was super sweet,” she says.
5. Hire a postpartum doula
For new parents with no family or friends nearby, a postpartum doula can provide practical assistance, information and emotional support. These caregivers can be sanity-savers for the whole family — but they can be quite pricey, so hiring a professional on behalf of the family makes an amazing gift.
“A doula is a layperson trained to help laboring and postpartum mothers navigate their hospital stay and early days at home with the baby,” Loewit says.
While family members can fill this role, Loewit says, “It may be easier [for new parents] to ask for help from a doula than a family member or guest coming over to visit.”
Halina Newberry Grant, mom of two, of Culver City, California, whose sister works as a doula professionally and was there for her after the birth of her child, says having a postpartum doula really helps normalize life after baby’s arrival.
“Having someone constantly [there for me] and just always handing me plates and refilling my ice water was magical,” she says.
6. Encourage self care
Caring for a newborn is a huge job, so encouraging new parents to take time for themselves (and one another, if coupled) is one of the kindest gifts you can give. An uninterrupted shower or a dinner out with your partner may be the last priority on your mind, says Loewit, “but it can make a huge difference in relieving tension in relationships or help you feel like yourself or more human.”
When Christine Shields Corrigan, mom of three, of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, had her first child almost 23 years ago now, she says her father-in-law visited every few days so that she could nap.
“I had my daughter a week before Thanksgiving, and those naps helped get me through those first few weeks,” says Shields Corrigan.
Krystal Sital, a mom of three from Springfield, New Jersey, also appreciated the ways friends and family created time for her to care for herself.
“[They] let me take a bath while they cared for baby and took my older kids out, so I could sleep,” she says. “They also shoved my partner and I out of the house to focus on just us.”
7. Just be there
While having a baby is a joyous experience, new parents often feel isolated and lonely — especially moms.
“Lots of moms need to talk and process their birth experience or talk about fears and feelings,” says Loewit.
One of the best ways to support these parents, she says, is to offer them a safe nonjudgmental space, in which you just listen.
“My sister came every day with coffee and brushed my hair for me!” Olivia Howell, a mom of two from New York says. “It was so knotty from delivery.”
New York mom of one Rose Newnham had one of her best friends come to stay with her a few weeks after her first was born.
“She cooked for me, held the baby and made me laugh,” Newman says. “She helped me so much just by being with me.”
8. Or, sometimes, leave them alone
While lots of parents crave companionship and commiseration, others need exactly the opposite.
“Many parents won’t even tell people that the baby has been born until after they go home — just to keep visitors at bay,” Loewit says.
If you sense a family wants their space, she says: “Leave them alone. Maybe check in periodically or just send a quick ‘thinking of you’ message, but otherwise respect their space.”
“When I had my twins, my best friend put a big cooler on my porch and set up a meal train and had my friends sign up to bring food,” says Atlanta mom of four Colleen Oakley Tull.
Home-cooked meals for the whole family were so needed, says Oakley Tull, but the best part about this gift? “I didn’t have to see anyone or feel the need to host them in my home while I was in shambles.”
Kristen Herrera, mom of two, of Madison Heights, Michigan, also preferred not having to entertain or socialize after the birth of her second child.
“I really wanted private bonding time, which meant asking everyone except my immediate family not to come by,” says Herrera. “It was hard for some people, but we got a few weeks on our own.”
One last word of advice
If you’re wondering how to help a mom or dad in your life, there are a ton of options — from gifts of food and other essentials (such as toilet paper) to small but meaningful acts, like doing the dishes or holding the baby while mom takes a shower or naps.
But what isn’t so helpful, says Loewit: “Unwanted advice or differing parenting views.”
In other words, bring the casseroles, but keep unsolicited opinions to yourself.