11 tips on how to help new moms (and to be a superstar)

I just got back from a two-week stay in San Francisco with my sister who gave birth on November 27th. Not only was she wrecked from lack of sleep, but she was also navigating those rocky waters otherwise known as the New-Parent Rite of Passage which often creates the very familiar New-Parent Pallor (you know what I'm talking about: that pasty, exhausted, frumpy, grumpy, and deflated look we all wear for weeks - and sometimes even years - after we give birth).

My mom was there for the first week or so of Atticus' life, but had to come home to Austin. Then there was a string of visitors that came through for a day or two here and there, but nobody was able to really dig in and stay with Gabby and her husband, Maurice.

(And speaking of Maury, he was able to take off 8 weeks of paternity leave, but only took his first 2 when the baby was born, choosing to save his last 6 for when my sister has to head back to her office at the end of February.)

S0, basically, like so many new mommas, Gabby's been sorta on her own. Maury's there as much as possible, but he's a man and he's a new daddy himself. He doesn't know all the tricks of the trade, yet. And Gabby's also the first of many of her friends to have a baby, so they don't really get it either.

Enter me, the Big Sister. Yay!!

Ohhh, it was beyond wonderful to be able to swoop in and help her in ways I knew that even she didn't know she wanted help with yet. Like propping her arm up with a pillow while she nursed, bringing her a glass of water whenever she nursed without asking, making sure she had snacks when we left the house and bottled water, showing her how to nurse the baby on the move in the Baby Bjorn, and so on.

I went to San Francisco with a job to do and I can tell you that it made my heart soar to be able to come through for my little sister. Maury and all her friends were doing a wonderful job on their own, but I really felt for the first time what my contribution could be to my sister's life that might be different from what she usually gets. And it made me feel even better about being able to help her.

So, in no particular order, here is my MUST DO'S FOR A NEW MOMMY LIST:

  • 1. Always offer to prop up her arm with a pillow when she's nursing - and this is the really important part - EVERY TIME SHE NURSES. Doing it once or twice only makes her have to ask and having to repeatedly ask for things erodes a new mommy's confidence and good mood.
  • 2. Always bring her a glass of water - EVERY TIME SHE NURSES. I've never seen a thirstier woman than one who's breastfeeding. If I could have had a hose brought to my bedside I would have I drank so much water during those months.
  • 3. Never let her leave the house without snacks and, in general, make sure she's fed! Nursing, exhausted mothers need nutrients!
  • 4. Help her to leave the house every day and go for walks wearing her new bundle of love as much as possible. It helps her to regain strength and it's great for the baby.
  • 5. Espouse the brilliance of a belly-band. It's a post-partum dream: it holds you in, supports your back, and helps support your organs' retreat back to their regular places. Better yet, bring her one.
  • 6. Brush up on breastfeeding-in-public techniques to share with your new-mommy friend. Support her in her first endeavors (it's always a little unnerving at first and new mommies are nothing if not nervous about pretty much everything baby-related). Show her how to drape the baby without covering his whole little face. (see Ed. note below for more on this.)
  • 7. Help her pack all the essentials in a diaper bag since blowouts are many at this stage in life. Must haves: a spare outfit, a couple of diapers, lots of wipes, and some burp cloths. She doesn't need the nasal aspirator or baby Tylenol to go to the mall.
  • 8. For car rides, help her with the baby when she cries. Hold baby's hand or give her a paci. Tell the new mom it's 100% ok to pull over and nurse and take the baby out as many times as she needs to - or to even turn around and go home. And that she's not crazy if she does.
  • 9. Offer to do laundry. New babies seem to quadruple the laundry requirements and that's about the cruelest joke of new motherhood. You've got this tiny little baby and mountains of laundry to do. She'll be eternally grateful.
  • 10. Help her tidy the house to a state she's most accustomed to. A home that's comfortable is like a salve to a frazzled new mom.
  • (and lastly) 11. Hold the baby as much as you'd like at any hour. Momma would probably love to go pee without having to figure out what to do with her baby first. Or take a shower. Or write an email. Whatever, you get the idea. If you're an overnight guest, work out something where you can take care of the baby and mom can catch some z's alone. Man, what heaven that can be!

I tried to do all of these things when I visited. Of course, I also had a toddler with me - and a husband - but all three of us did everything we could think of that we had wanted at the same time in our new parenting life. I believe the result was a positive one. My sister learned some new tricks, her husband saw what his wife needed from an outside perspective, and the little cousins got some good bonding time in as well.

These are all tips and tricks that I've picked up over the last couple of years. What were some life savers you experienced in those first few weeks of parenthood from friends and loved ones?? I'd love to add to my list!

(Ed note: After reading a PhD in Parenting post by Annie I wanted to add that I believe 100% that nursing mothers (and bottle-feeding ones, too) are to be supported in whatever manner they choose to feed their children. It just so happened that my sister's comfort level with exposing her upper breast is such that she preferred a little covering up. If she had wanted no covering whatsoever my job would have been to support her in that, as well. Likewise, if she had insisted on being out of public view, I would have done my best to find secluded areas where she could nurse comfortably. This whole "cover up to be polite" bullshit is just that: bullshit. It's incumbent on anyone who is offended to take action for their own comfort levels, much like we already do with men's plumber butts, open-mouthed eaters, and scantily clad bums and breasts. It's their right to let it hang out, so to speak. Not my preference, obviously, but still their right, and who am I to tell them how to dress, eat, or express themselves? And a mother is doing something none of those scenarios encompass: feeding another living being.)

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip:


  1. I think you covered pretty much everything I could think of. People bringing me food and holding the baby so I could actually shower was HUGE in the beginning. Just, huge.

    I am going to be an aunt myself in July, and I can't wait! Thanks for the reminders on what's important to a new mama.

  2. What a great post, Jessica. And so bang-on, in every way! I often pulled over on the side of the road to nurse my baby when he would start crying, and sometimes, yes, I even turned around to come back home. And yes about the needing to drink tons of water and finding a comfy position to breastfeed in. It took me a good 12 weeks to get really comfy breastfeeding my first-born. With the second baby, everything was easier. I still can't burp really well, though. I always needed help with that!

  3. And I forgot to say - I LOVE your pictures so much! Love the one of the two beautiful cousins wearing matching pj's! SO CUTE those boys are!!!

  4. YOU are a really great big sister. I can say, without a doubt, that I would not have been able to nurse either of my children without my big sister there to help. She got RIGHT IN THERE, if you know what I mean, and helped me get through it. Nothing says sisterly love like teaching your baby sister how to latch her baby correctly. :)
    I think you covered all the big things. And also? These pictures are giving me serious baby fever. I'll direct my husband to THIS blog when he starts complaining. :)

  5. What good info! I've never had a baby, so those are things I would NEVER have known.

    Yes, matching outfits ups the cute factor! ;) Great photos all around.

    And congrats to the new family! Little Attie is adorable!

  6. Great tips, and beautiful pictures! I'm sure your sister is so grateful, especially for the help with breastfeeding. And you're right on as far as the water--I'm still nursing my baby and have my water bottle on my nightstand every night. I'm constantly thirsty.

    The only other thing I would add to the list is to make some meals to stick in the freezer. With my first baby, making a meal wasn't too bad, but when I added the second, I wasn't sure how I was going to do it! Luckily, I had friends bring over meals to hold us over for a few weeks.
    I enjoyed your post!

  7. Yiu are a good sister! I hope I can do the same when my turns comes. And I hope my sister will let me. :-)

  8. If I ever have a baby, I'm calling you straight away... or at the very least, I'll hunt out this post. These are great tips that I'd never have thought of!

  9. great list. your sister is lucky! i had people show up, make dirty dishes, and disappear...repeat!

  10. This IS a great list-- I found the ones about supporting mothers when they're feeding their babies (no matter HOW they choose to do so) especially important. When I was nursing, no one ever thought about how draining it was for me as a new mom. I was constantly dehydrated, which made nursing more frustrating. Finally, DH realized I needed support-- and food and water!-- and it made a world of difference.

    What a precious family you have. I love the name, too; did your sister name him after the character from "To Kill A Mockingbird"? It's my favorite book!

    Confessions From A Working Mom

  11. @Elizabeth - yes, the name is from To Kill A Mockingbird! It's such a beautiful old name :) I just love it, too!