New moms get a lot of advice – from family, friends, even complete strangers – about how to navigate parenthood. Almost everyone has personal experience as a parent, aunt, uncle, or sibling – and everyone has been a baby. For each person, these experiences run deep, and it can be hard to untangle all the advice. That happens with family and friends, and can also happen with health care providers, who may make suggestions based on their personal experience, rather than scientific evidence.
The reality is that different approaches work for different people, and there are lots of “right answers” for how to grow a family. Keep that in mind as you get advice and assistance from others. Like dishes at a potluck, some suggestions will be exactly what you need, and others won’t be right for you. You’re the one who knows what you need – take what works, and set aside what doesn’t.
Suggestions that work can be helpful and even life-changing. Other times, loved ones do not recognize that their ideas, concerns, and priorities do not match yours. This disconnect can be frustrating and emotionally-draining. Conflicting opinions may also decrease your confidence. It is hard to have difficult conversations on top of being in the 4th Trimester.
Everyone is experiencing change – and that can be an amazing thing. This is the start of a new phase of your relationships. As much as everyone can work to listen to each other, the better. Ultimately, women matter and should be honored and protected.
You have more power than you may think! There are ways to politely address conflicts, say “no,” and stand up for what you feel is best for yourself and your baby. Here are some things to keep in mind as you manage excited, and potentially nervous or overbearing people.
The people in your life can’t read minds. What they think is helpful might not be. Things they used to do that were helpful might not be any more. Being clear about what you need and why is an important step to mutual understanding, respect, and gratitude. And if you’re in a place that you don’t know what you need, say that too! Try to speak up as soon as possible, to shape the course of action around your needs and preferences. This way, bad feelings can be spared or minimized. People feel good when they are “seen” for what they ARE doing. We all want to be of service and appreciated. Validation and thanks can reinforce positive behavior.
Others may have their ideas of what is “correct,” and that might reflect what they were taught. Also, medical understanding and best practices change over time. A generation or two ago, families were given very different advice about car seats, feeding, sleeping, and more. It can be upsetting for grandparents to feel that what they did for you wasn’t “right,” given what we know now. It may help to ask what parenting was like for them – what advice helped and what didn’t – and how there’s more than one “right answer.”
You are also a special individual. Each baby is unique. You know yourself and your baby best! Sometimes, the options and actions of others will strengthen you, other times it may be best to cope by permitting minor variations from your ideal, and other times, you might be best served by intervening. It’s up to you. Explaining your thinking may help family, friends, or others understand that what they are doing is not helpful. Then, then all parties might reflect on how this is impacting your relationship. If problematic encounters keep happening, decide which disagreements are better to be tolerated and which really matter. Your partner or someone else who is supporting you should be a part of this story, so building a village of real support is not only on you.
An example of potential help or conflict are visitors in the 4th Trimester, such as on the postpartum unit or in your home. A supportive guest is great if they bring you joy, make life easier, or are at least neutral to your experience. If they aren’t, then it is time for a conversation with your partner or support person to get their help in moving that person along or setting boundaries. Sometimes there may not be a lot of options if you need help and that is hard. You should be respected. Others should take kindly to direction on when to be around and in what ways they can be useful. So, send people home or ask them to come over! What is needed will vary by mom and situation.
Have you created a Postpartum Plan? This can help you outline who you want help from, when, and how before the baby even arrives. Chances are that you already know which family members and friends will be helpful and which will not. Giving people roles in advance might be one way to have the village around you that you need and deserve!
Don’t have a plan? No worries, you can still use these questions and tools to help you cope right now.