Childbirth is one of the most monumental events of a woman’s life. It's physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting even under the best of circumstances. And when it’s over, the work doesn’t end there, of course. In fact, the work of parenting has only just begun, and with it an even more exhausting, challenging, and life-altering phase: life with a new baby.
Although a postpartum mom may feel more battered and exhausted than she ever has in her life, there is zero time to quietly rest and recover because now she must care for her new baby. If she is a first-time mom, her life will change in ways she never imagined. Even if she has other children, she will still go through a transition period with her new family — and will still have the difficult job of recovering from childbirth.
If you have the privilege of visiting a new mom in the early weeks and months after she gives birth, know that your words and actions can have an impact on her more than you realize. Not only is she dealing with major life changes, but her hormones are all over the place. It’s a perfect storm only those who have been there understand.
Your job is simple: Don’t make things harder for her. Don’t say anything that will leave her feeling frustrated, worried or angry. Be kind — and take note of these seven things you should never say to a woman who's recovering from childbirth.
1. Something negative about the way she gave birth
Maybe she had the birth of her dreams or maybe she learned the hard way that even the best birth plans can go awry. Either way, don’t pass judgment on the way she gave birth.
Moreover, if she makes any comments that sound like she is beating herself up over the way things went, make sure you tell her she’s a rock star. She may not realize it, but she needs to hear it.
2. A judgment about how she feeds her baby
Emotions will run high early on as a woman navigates how best to feed her child. Maybe she’ll breastfeed. Maybe she’ll formula feed. Maybe she’ll do a little of both, and maybe it will be even more complicated than that.
A new mom can become wracked with guilt if her initial feeding plans don’t work out.
You don’t know the reasons behind why a woman feeds her baby a certain way, and unless she voluntarily tells you, it’s not your business to know. This is also not the time to get preachy about feeding styles and which is best — so don’t even think about commenting on it.
3. A brag about how quickly you bounced back after birth
Having a baby completely changes a woman’s body. Some women do “bounce back” right away, but many don’t. For a lot of us, it takes a while, and it’s usually the last thing on a woman’s mind as she recovers from childbirth.
The first weeks and months postpartum are an incredibly vulnerable time, and playing the comparison game can be devastating. So don’t give a new mom a reason to feel she’s failed in some way. If you left the hospital in your pre-baby jeans, that’s great — but don’t tell her that. Have some empathy and save the story for another time.
4. Something about her “hogging” her baby
New mothers — especially first-time mothers — can be extremely overprotective of their babies. They worry about germs, whether their babies are eating enough, whether they feel loved, whether they are bonding well enough and on and on.
If you visit a new mom (first-time or otherwise), and she lets you hold her baby, don’t act put out if she asks for the baby back. Don’t say, “You get to hold the baby all the time” or call her a baby hog. That baby may be outside of her body, but it is still deeply tied to her.
During those first weeks after birth, that new mom is acting on raw instinct. Any perceived threat to her baby is incredibly distressing, and that includes refusing to hand the baby back when she asks. Don’t give her a reason to go into beast mode, and don’t cause her undue stress.
5. Anything about work
If she’s on maternity leave, don’t bother her with work problems. Don’t even share the latest office gossip unless she asks to hear it, and don’t make her think about when she’ll be returning. For many women, that date looms overhead like an impending storm. Just let her rest and save the drama for another day.
6. How hungry/thirsty/tired you are
However hungry you are, she’s hungrier. Same goes for thirst, and don’t even get me started on how tired she is. She’s exhausted — probably more than she ever has been in her life. So keep your complaints about your own discomfort out of earshot, and for the love of all that is holy, don’t expect her to cook or clean in anticipation of your visit.
7. Any comment on her appearance (except to say, “You look amazing")
A woman will never, ever look as ragged or feel as vulnerable as she does when she is recovering from childbirth. No matter how she gave birth, her body is likely thrashed. She feels like she ran a marathon and then got hit by a car.
She hasn’t slept in days, weeks and months. She’s maybe resting two hours a night, and it shows. None of her clothes fit. She feels lumpy and weird. It’s like the feeling of being an awkward 12-year-old multiplied a thousand times over.
Don’t ask when or how she plans to lose the baby weight. Don’t tell her about the miracle detox you did after your baby was born. Don’t suggest a facial serum. Don’t say anything except, “You look amazing.” Tell her she looks great and that you can’t even tell she just had a baby. Tell her she looks beautiful and rested. She will likely weep tears of joy and appreciation. Ask me how I know.
If any of this sounds unreasonable, I can assure you it is not. It is humane and kind, and it's the very least you can do for someone you care about and who cares about you enough to let you into her world while she is recovering from the huge task of childbirth.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards and career advice.