Dear New Mum, PLEASE Ask for Help!
Why oh why is it that new mums never ask for help?
I'm currently frustrated because I know a few people who have had babies recently. I am desperate to help in any way I can, because I know what it's like having a newborn and being in the postpartum period. The fact is, no matter how much we say, "let us know if you need anything", no one ever asks.
Here are a few theories why mums of newborns don't ask for help:
- We want to look like we're coping
- We want to feel like we're coping
- We want to learn how to do it on our own
- We want to be confident and capable on our own
- It makes us feel more like 'real mums' if we can manage it all
- We don't know who to ask (e.g. who to call to help do the washing, or sweeping, or pick up milk), especially if we don't have family around
- They don't realise how happy it makes other people to be able to help
Here's the problem with not asking:
- People in your community are desperate to help and feel bad that they don't know how
- People assume someone else must be helping you
- You may manage on your own, but it's that much more difficult and you end up extra exhausted
- You miss the opportunity to build your friendships and relationships with people around you
- People eventually stop asking
- You miss out on all the extra support
And here's why it's ok to ask for help:
- Help isn't a sign you aren't coping or capable. It simple makes your job easier during postpartum recovery - where your body needs as much rest as possible.
- Help means you have more time to relax with your baby rather than worry about things that need doing.
- Help means you are less exhausted and can respond to your baby better.
- Help means you are less likely to develop postnatal depression (if you get more rest and feel less isolated).
- Help means other people in your life build stronger bonds with your baby.
- Help is what 'real mums' never say no to! Eventually we all realise the rarity and value of help offered…and snatch it up when we can.
- Help can be easy, simple tasks, and it doesn't matter who you ask if they've offered… your next door neighbour isn't going to mind getting an extra loaf of bread at the shops while they're there. Your friend isn't going to mind bringing you a takeaway coffee after she's been out to a café. People who help feel needed, valued and good about being able to help.
For others like me, whose new mum friends are keeping quiet, here's how to help anyway:
- For neighbours, take out the garbage bins and bring them back in. She will probably lose track of what day it is.
- Buy them a few food items while you're doing groceries. Good things to get are nice snack foods that aren't perishable. They can eat them by themselves, or offer biscuits (etc) when all the visitors come over.
- Next time you go to the shops, text and ask them if they'd like you to grab anything. Tell them you're going to the grocery shops and the chemist and past the store that has baby things in it… if you're specific she won't feel like it's a hassle for you to grab her whatever she was needing.
- Next time you're out, buy them a takeaway coffee and drop it off. Don't stay or go in the house unless she very much persists for you to come in. Even if she doesn't drink the coffee, she'll appreciate the gesture, and the fact that you can help without becoming a burden.
- When you're visiting, put a load of washing on, hang it out, help with washing up dishes, or sweeping the floor, or taking bins out - etc. Whatever you do, make sure you wash any cups or plates that you use while you're visiting. Sneak in doing extra dishes too. Your hosts will always tell you to leave it, but just do it anyway. Don't insist on hanging washing up though, as underpants and things can be a bit personal. If the parents are embarrassed by your help, just tell them they can repay you next time, or that someone did it for you too and we've all been there.
- Make a meal and drop it off. No one asks for meals, but everyone loves them. If you know they've gotten lots of meals or had some precooked in their freezer, take meals for lunch instead.
- Invite your mum friend out for a short walk or coffee. Even if she says no, it's nice to feel like your friends still care about you.
- Offer to mind the baby while she rests or has a shower. Sometimes mums feel they have to 'entertain' visitors rather than take advantage of their presence.
- Bring gifts and flowers. These cheer mums up and remind them of what a special time this is in their lives (it's easy to forget after the first few nights at home).
So even though my offers to help have been responded to with a polite thanks, and then never called upon, my non-offered and just done anyway help has always been received warmly. In fact, I wouldn't mind if someone brought me a meal, or gift, or coffee, or did my dishes or garbage bins, or entertained my kid while I had a nap. And I don't even have a newborn.
The lesson learned? New mums, accept (and ask for) help even if you can manage without it - life is allowed to be easier. And everyone else, help new mums as much as you can even if they don't ask (just be mindful of their boundaries).