How many times have you said to a new mom, "Let me know if there is anything I can do to help!"? We often mean it very genuinely but just don't know what we could do to really help. I am totally guilty of this so I put together the following list of ways that you could encourage and love your mom friends well when they are transitioning into a new life stage with a new baby (whether it's their first or their fifth)!
After my second child was born, I wrote down some things I wanted to remember when a few friends and family members did some really great things for me. I've expanded the list (after asking some friends too) so that it can be my "go to" when I want to help in the future and I hope you can find some new ideas too!
We are all much more likely to accept a very specific offer of help than a vague one, especially operating on very little sleep!
So instead of the normal "Let me know if I can do anything," grab something off this list and offer it with two date and time options and see how that goes. The other benefit of this is that you're also picking a way you would enjoy serving.
If you love cooking, bring a meal. If you have little kids of your own, offer to watch her older kids. If you love holding babies even when they are crying, tell her that and offer to do that so she can take a shower. If you are on a tight budget, some of the suggestions in the "Super Practical Help" category below are the most wanted and have little or no cost except your time and effort.
Some new moms really need to be better at accepting help. It can be a blur and it is hard. Really hard. So moms, don't kick yourself for not being able to do everything. Your Christian friends are there to love you well, so don't feel bad about it. Instead, remember you'll likely have the opportunity to show others the love of Christ too in no time!
Finally, I wanted this list to be comprehensive but concise, so you'll need to use common sense as you read it. If you're thinking of your best friend or your sister, you get in there do the crazy-hard/could-be-awkward stuff like cleaning the bathroom and holding the baby from Midnight to 2AM so mom can sleep between those feedings. If it's someone you don't know very well, pick something else on the list like sending a meal.
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Ok, all that introduction! Here's the list!
I think this category is pretty much the go-to for showing a mom love after she has a baby. Our church often participates in meal calendars for those who need help in a variety of situations (and any new baby clearly qualifies!). There is just something about the planning, shopping, and cooking involved with dinner that is overwhelming when you have a new little person in your home. Here are some very specific ways you can show love through food!
It's always a good idea to ask ahead of time about food allergies and sensitivities, especially that may have developed with any complications from nursing (lots of moms have to cut out dairy or other food groups when breastfeeding to keep baby happy).
Bring dinner: Something easy that doesn't require any extra prep besides perhaps some easy heating (a few ideas: lasagna, enchiladas, soups, crockpot meals, big salads with protein, or take-out like sushi) and if at all possible include all the “extras” - napkins, paper plates or bowls and utensils, drinks, fruit, salad, dessert. If you're short on time yourself or not confident in your cooking, it can be something store/restaurant bought or have store bought components (like rotisserie chicken or a pre-bagged salad). Cooking double works well here too - just double your dinner recipe and bring half to the mom all packaged up.
Gift freezer meals: These are great because you can even gift them before the baby arrives and they are all ready to go whenever they are needed. Hopefully you know some things that freeze well that you already make (almost any soup, casserole, meatballs); if not, try it out and see how much time it can save you! I really like this chili that is meatless! Weird, right?
Meals other than dinner: Bring breakfast items that are easy to prepare throughout the week (energy balls, frozen pancakes/waffles, muffins) and other healthy snack options. I had a friend bring a bunch of little stuff like this when she dropped off a dinner and it was so helpful to have pancakes I only had to pop in the toaster.
Snacks just for mom: Especially when you have other little kids running around, it can be hard to get quality food. By bringing snacks for mom, she'll feel extra loved! Some good examples would be lactation cookies (These ones are great or you could make your own) or other healthy things for mom like almonds, cut up fruit, individual packaged cheese, trail mix, or a special order smoothie from a local juice shop.
Some "special" food that she really loves as a treat: For me, this was Trader Joe's Cookie Butter and pizza from one of my two favorite places (Lou Malnati's shipped in dry ice to my home and the Godfather pizza from Rosati's in my town- in case you're wondering). Find out what she likes as a special treat and make it happen!
Feed her older kids: Come over at lunch time to drop off dinner (maybe a crock pot soup so you can start it) and bring lunch for the sibling(s) and feed them. This is great if you have little kids too - picky kids always seem to eat more when they see others eating!
Super Practical Help
Simple cleaning: If you're over (like dropping off a meal), just do the dishes that are in the sink or take out the trash.
More cleaning: This is one of those things that you have to have a decent relationship with the person for them to accept your help (and even at that, they may have a hard time with it!) but also one of the things that a new mom would probably never ask for. You'd have to offer specifically what you would do and how long you would be there. But, oh my - this would be so wonderful! I think if you position it as random stuff that never gets done (clean the oven, mop the floors, whatever) that makes it easier to accept!
Even more (but professional) cleaning: Maybe you hate cleaning and so offering that wouldn't be the best for you, I love the idea of getting a new mom a gift certificate for a cleaning service. The amazing part about this is you can give it to her ahead of time and she can use it at the time she really needs it! Since you're paying for it (or maybe a few friends chip in together for the total cost and include the tip too), you also don't leave the mom with any awkward conversations about when the next cleaning service will be. She can just say it was a gift from a friend. If you don't know where to look, try to get a good deal on a cleaning service is from a deal site like Groupon!
A few minutes alone: Come over for about a two hour period to allow mom to have some alone time to take a nap/shower/whatever but not be in the same room as the baby - because babies can smell their mamas! You may forget once your kids get a little older, but in those newborn days, sometimes a shower is the best. thing. ever.
Offering to help drive after a C-Section: I've never had a C-Section, but a friend mentioned this and it's one of those things I wouldn't have thought of! If you are in close proximity, driving could be an easy way to offer your time and also get in a little bit of quality time (which I'll talk more about later).
Babysit the siblings: Take older kids out to a park or your house or a fun outing so mom can just have the baby for some bonding time or take a nap. The older kids will also benefit from the play time and change of scenery!
Books: I think short books are great because there is such a sense of accomplishment in finishing a book. Some of my favorite books in this category for new moms are:
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms by Gloria Furman (gospel-based encouragement and Gloria is a fabulous writer)
Ketchup Is a Vegetable: And Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves by Robin O'Bryant (this book had me laughing so hard! It's less "practical theology" than the others.)
The Gospel-Centered Mom by Sara Wallace (this is a Bible-study journal type book with response questions)
Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic (more gospel-based encouragement especially if you have more than one child)
Flowers: I mean, flowers are always nice but especially a few weeks after the ones you got at the hospital all died and your house is messy and there are diapers everywhere, what a fun treat!
Some pampering: Gift certificates for a pedicure or haircut. It always seems easier to find the time for these as a new mom if they are already paid for!
Capturing moments: Take pictures of her kids and then send them to her or (bonus points) print the best ones and give with a frame or two!
A new outfit: Gift card for a local clothing store with instructions to buy a postpartum outfit (emphasize it should be something that fits her right now). Although it's a common problem of women to think they have "nothing to wear", after you've gained a bunch of weight and then given birth, it's a whole new crazy problem!
Just talk: Lots of new moms are in desperate need of adult conversation. It doesn't always have to be deep and meaningful, sometimes you just need to hear yourself talk to another adult who can respond, even if it's just about a silly TV show or something funny that happens with babies. When you are feeding a baby every two to three hours, you're obviously sleeping for very small chunks of time, which can make you feel terrible and lead to depression very easily.
Late night help: Along with adult conversation, many people love having someone just to talk to in the middle of the night when they are feeding the baby. Along with this, you could offer to be with the baby for a night shift and wake the mom up for the feedings. If nights aren't your (or her) thing, offer to take over at 6AM so mom can sleep then. This is especially important to remember for those doing all or most of the parenting by themselves (single moms, military wives, wives whose husbands travel or work long hours, etc.).
Go for a short walk if possible to get out of the house: Put the baby in a stroller or wrap and get some sunshine. Exercise, fresh air, and Vitamin D from the sun are always a good pick-me-up and it may help mom's confidence to know she can do it again by herself.
Invite her to your house: She won't have to worry about how her house looks if you invite her over for a snack, coffee, or dessert so she can get out and have some of that adult conversation. While this clearly could double as a play date if you have kids as well, this shouldn't be something you only do if you both have kids. Women with kids should still have relationships with others who don't.
Help mom (especially if she's alone) during the church service: Offer to take one kid or just sit with them and help. Bonus points if you have some kind of church related activity or snack in your purse (but ask mom first).
Hold the baby: At church functions or events, especially in that baby non-walking but super-squirmy/going-to-put-every-gross-thing-in-their-mouth phase, mom can often use an extra set of hands. It’s hard being at someone else’s house when your kid doesn’t have a high chair or their normal home “stuff” and you have to hold them 100% of the time.
Ask the right questions: If you want to make sure you're being a good friend and caring about her mental health and possible baby blues or postpartum depression, check out this article from someone who's been there.
Give her the Gospel
I couldn't go through a big long list of things and not include this! You've probably noticed a theme from the list above, most new moms are tired and needy. We'd be foolish if we only sent pizza to our new mom friend and didn't point her to the "bread of life" (John 6:35) who will meet her deepest needs in this season and beyond.
Encourage her: As you hear her share feelings of failure or self-doubt, remind her that it is hard work but that her identity is not found in being the best mom, or being great at breastfeeding, or knowing exactly where she stands on vaccines or sleep training, or having a clean house. Remind her that her identity is firmly rooted in Christ and what He has done for her. She can take comfort in knowing that she is fully loved and fully accepted.
Pray for her when you are with her: If you're nervous about this, pick a Bible verse ahead of time that you can pray for her to believe. Some suggestions (taken from the ESV):
Psalm 73:26: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Romans 12:12: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (See this post for a devotional on this text).
2 Corinthians 12:9: "But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
Hebrews 4:15-16: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
And pray for her when you aren't with her: Send her a text message or card telling her that you are praying for her and include what you're praying (possibly include one of the verses above) for her.
That's all I came up with this time! I hope you found a few things you hadn't thought of before!
Remember that everyone heals differently, so don't assume too much about her - just get out there and be gracious and loving!
What else would you add to this list? Or which ones would you say are the absolute best?