Coping with New Parents

Baby's feet showing through a wrapped towel

When your friends or relatives have just had a baby (especially a first baby) you must assume that they have entered a twilight world of broken nights, where exhaustion alternates with elation.

Of course you want to see the baby (and the parents), but it is all-important that you observe certain rules of new parent etiquette.

•Check (usually with the father) before you drop in, whether it's to hospital or home. Spontaneous, unexpected visits can be the final straw.

•Everybody loves a new baby, and congratulating neighbours - even if you don't know them very well - on a new arrival is a lovely gesture. But don't assume that, just because you live next-door, you can just drop in. The same rule applies - be careful to check before you visit.

•Don't come empty-handed. If you're visiting the new mother in hospital (an increasingly rare event nowadays, as most new mothers are discharged so quickly), bring flowers - the hospital visit is about pampering the exhausted mother.

•If you're going to the house to admire the baby, bring a baby gift (baby clothes, rattles, cot mobiles or soft toys). Be careful about soft toys - many aren't suitable for under-3-year-olds (button eyes are a liability), and many babies end up with a stockpile of toys that can't be touched. And a bunch of flowers for the mother will never go amiss…

•Don't, under any circumstances, expect the usual hospitality. Disorientated parents may find that even offering a drink is beyond them, and shopping for provisions tends to be an overwhelming task in the early days of new parenthood.

•Keep it short. New parents will enjoy mini-bulletins from the 'real' world, but their capacity for engaging with you may be severely compromised, and you're likely to find them somewhat distracted. Don't be offended; just make your apologies and leave gracefully.

•Admire the baby inordinately, no matter what you really think…

•Don't simply assume that you can take endless photographs of the new baby - some parents don't like it, so always ask if they mind.

•Only cuddle the baby when invited to do so - no peremptory grabs for the cot. Some new mothers don't like other people 'handling' their child, so respect their wishes.

•Don't make any personal comments about the appearance of the new mother (unless you can muster a compliment). In the early days after the birth, she may - disturbingly - still look pregnant, but this must never be alluded to.

•Be supportive of the new parents' choice of name. Even if you don't like it at all, it's their decision, and they (and the child) will have to live with it.

•Don't be a know-it-all. If the parents want advice about new babies, let them ask for it. Just take a back seat, and wait for them to come to you.

•Never comment adversely on their baby-care; remarks like "in my day, we fed them every 4 hours on the dot…" will be seen as a criticism of their parenting. In the early days, confidence is fragile and a careless remark can cause untold resentment.

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