A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Forget Cute Onesies: This Is What Every New Mom Really Needs

It's true that it takes a village to raise a child, but sometimes it just takes a couple extra loads of laundry. We got real moms to share the acts of kindness that really eased their burden during those hectic first few weeks postpartum.

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Give the gift of time

Along with a new baby comes sleep deprivation and the inability for a new mom to do many things for herself without a level of forethought and planning that would make her laugh in disbelief (if she wasn’t so exhausted). Offering to simply come to a new mom’s house and sit with her newborn while she takes a nap, showers, or eats a meal goes a long way to help her feel human again. “The nicest thing someone did for me after I had my son was come to my house and watching him while I took a nap,” says April, 34, says of an act of kindness she experienced after giving birth. “She washed dishes and did some laundry for me.” It might seem like an insignificant gesture to offer to watch a newborn (who will likely be sleeping) for an hour, but to a new mother, the gift of time to take a few moments to herself is something to cherish.

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Bring her favorite food to her hospital bed

Most of the time people who want to help will bring food to the new family’s home once they’ve been discharged from the hospital. But the new mom might appreciate meals brought to the hospital even more, especially if she’s had a C-section and has to stay for a few days. Hospital food can be less than appetizing, and having some familiar comfort food on hand can make the transition to motherhood a bit more palatable. Jane, 34, noting her family’s thoughtfulness, says, “My mom brought me a full Korean meal to eat right after giving birth, and both my mom and mother-in-law let me nap as much as possible when they were with me.” Tia, 33, reflects, “My aunt brought subs for everyone while I was in labor and set some aside for me. It was awesome because you’re so hungry after giving birth. I had a sandwich before I left the delivery room. Best sandwich of my life!” (Here’s what else no one tells you about giving birth.) Every new mother is different, of course, so be sure to ask ahead of time what would be the most helpful to the family.

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meal schedule

Set up a meal schedule

For some new mothers (okay, every new mother), cooking a meal is the last thing on her mind upon coming home. Cooking food likely doesn’t enter back into the equation of life for at least a few weeks after giving birth, and thoughtful family and friends understand this. Technology has made it easier than ever to support a new family with meals, with sites such as takethemameal.com and mealtrain.com, which allow an organizer to schedule meals to be provided by others for a set amount of time. Char, 31, recalls how helpful this was to her, saying, “We joined a church about three months before I gave birth. Even though we didn’t know people very well, they had meals scheduled to be delivered to us each day for two weeks after our baby was born. We were just taken aback by this. This helped a ton because we were trying to survive new babyhood and also entertain our almost five year old who still had to go to school.”

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Clean something

Your comfort level with this task will definitely depend on your relationship to the new mom in question, but chances are cleaning something during your visit will be greatly appreciated. Dishes and laundry don’t stop simply because a baby is on the scene, and things can pile up quickly. You can help a new mother through this stressful, yet joyous time by doing a bit of housework while you visit, without waiting to be asked first. Meredith, 35, recalls the kind act of a childless friend, saying, “My friend came over a few days after we were home. She brought a meal for me and immediately went into my kitchen and started doing dishes. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was so unexpected but so appreciated.” Jennifer, 35, got an incredible gift from her father-in-law, recalling, “My father-in-law had a professional cleaning person come in and clean our home top-to-bottom while I was in the hospital. I’m talking blinds and windows, everything.” While there are some circumstances in which cleaning something might not be appropriate, it’s an incredibly kind gesture that is always worth offering.

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extra mile

Go the extra mile to make her feel special

Some girlfriends know just how to make a new mom feel special, and what that entails will be unique to each mom and situation. For Jamie, 34, that meant a meal made of farm fresh ingredients. She recalls, “One of my best friends came over and made me a delicious brunch with ingredients she’d just picked up from the farmer’s market. Then she cleaned my kitchen. She was my favorite person for quite a while after that.” The gift of time with a touch of thoughtfulness can mean far more than anything purchased, and will still be appreciated long after the newborn phase is over.

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life easier

Think of how to make life easier for her

After a baby is born, leaving the house can feel like an impossible task. Just preparing to get out the door requires getting two people ready, and packing a diaper bag and a change of clothes (for her and baby—projectile spit-up isn’t pretty). It can feel overwhelming. That’s why ordering diapers and wipes online to be delivered to her home is an incredible help. Heather, 37, said, “Since I was recovering from awful complications post-delivery, my coworkers all went in on a Peapod gift card for me, so I could order groceries online and have them delivered. So nice!” Offering to go grocery shopping for a new family is another way to ease the burden of taking care of daily tasks that can be hard to do with an infant. Before you grocery shop online, read these tips first.

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Make a basket of household essentials

Many people put gift baskets together for a new baby—with bottles, pacifiers, and cute outfits. But what about adding some practical items and treats in there too? Life gets crazy with a new baby in the house, and let’s be honest, sometimes toilet paper gets forgotten at the store when a hungry baby is wailing for you to hurry home for a nap. Putting together a basket of household items like paper products (tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, and disposable cutlery), diapers and wipes, and one of mom’s favorite treats (chocolate, of course!), can help take the pressure of running errands off her shoulders and allow her to relax a bit more. Consider adding in some gift cards for a restaurant with delivery service, to reserve your place in her life as most thoughtful friend.

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Do a text and drop

Sometimes the best gift to a new mom is one that is given with the understanding that she needs time alone with her new family. Consider making an easy-to-grab breakfast food like muffins, and picking up her favorite magazine to drop at her doorstep. Often times something as simple as a magazine that she loves is a gentle reminder that not everything about her life is unrecognizable now that she’s a mother. Simply send her a text message to let her know that a surprise is waiting on her doorstep, and know that this small act of kindness will be met with appreciation, and most likely, motivation to one day pay it forward.

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Offer to entertain siblings

For siblings of the new baby, the newborn phase can be difficult to navigate, and can bring feelings of jealousy and loss to the surface. You can help a new mom by helping to fill the gap of attention for the other children that a new baby can create. Elizabeth, 33, had a family member that stepped in when she had unfortunate post-birth complications. She said, “My brother, sister-in- law, and her family, watched both of my boys for eight days when I was re-admitted back into the hospital. I will be forever grateful that they could all take the time out of their lives to watch my babies so I could focus on getting better.” While most circumstances won’t require a lengthy babysitting gig, taking the siblings for a walk to the playground, a movie, or just out to ice cream, can give the new parents a break to focus on their new baby.

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out of house

Offer to get her out of the house

Even though a new mom might be hesitant to leave her baby with others, offering to do something like take a walk with her (and baby if she prefers) can be a wonderful way to break up the monotony of life with a newborn. Fresh air and light exercise can go a long way toward giving a new mom the energy and renewed motivation she needs to make it through another sleepless night with a fussy baby. Once she’s outside in the light of day, she will likely be grateful to have someone in her life willing to think outside the box to help her adjust to motherhood. Be sure to keep the outing short and let her set the pace.

Jen Babakhan
Jen specializes in psychology, wellness, and human-interest stories. She has interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life, from Holocaust and 9/11 survivors to media personalities, and in addition to Reader's Digest, her work has appeared in Guideposts and other national news outlets. Jen's first book, Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey from Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom, ignited a love of serving readers through personal stories. She is currently writing her second book, a nonfiction title for adults with a terminally ill parent.