“First one?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, hesitantly. It took me a second, but then I realized she expected me to bombard her—with stupid questions and stories of my own labors and deliveries and vomit and poopy diapers.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said, laughing. “I just want to sit here and be envious for a few minutes.” She noticed my perpetual hot flash and nodded.
After a few moments she relaxed a little, and said, “So how was your delivery?” And it hit me: Maybe pregnant women, especially first-timers, DO appreciate advice and stories . . . of the right kind. The useful kind. I remember being very grateful for the tips on various painkillers and associated nausea, for example. That was useful.
Knowing that a friend went through 86 hours of labor and ended up in emergency surgery . . . not so much.
In that spirit, then, instead of offering new mothers unsolicited advice, I’m going to offer the rest of the world unsolicited advice on how not to offer new mothers unsolicited advice.
First off, understand that pregnant women are engaged in one of life’s most stressful situations—and are denied any of the really good coping mechanisms, like coffee and wine. So don’t tell a very pregnant woman to take it easy, unless you want to see her head blow off her shoulders.
Do not, under any circumstances, ask a pregnant woman if she’s “had that baby yet,” for two reasons. First, if she hasn’t had that baby yet, your life could quite possibly be in danger. Secondly, if she HAS had that baby, and you either didn’t notice or couldn’t tell, then your life might possibly be in danger. So maybe that’s actually one reason.
Don’t suggest that a pregnant woman sleep as much as she can now. You can’t stockpile sleep. You can’t hoard it. And all this does is make her anxious and fearful, which I think most of us can agree is something she’s doing perfectly well on her own, thank you.
Along those lines, after the baby is born, don’t suggest that the new mother sleep when the baby sleeps. A new mother, in my experience, doesn’t want to sleep when the baby sleeps. She wants to clean a little, maybe make a decent dinner, return some phone calls, or—and this is a biggie—take a nice, long, hot shower or bubble bath.
What’s more appreciated—and again, I’m simply speaking from my own experience here—is when a friend comes over and says, “Hey, let me hold/feed/walk that screaming baby of yours while you go up and have some alone time.” My son is now 10, and one of my most vivid memories of his infancy is a friend coming over to hold him so I could sleep, knowing he was safe. That, and watching his little head slam into the doorjamb because he flung himself backward as we were leaving the bedroom.
Which leads to the next suggestion: Do share your own mistakes. Nothing makes a new mother feel worse than thinking she is the only mother in the world who’s ever stood sobbing in the pediatrician’s office because her baby won’t stop crying. Or fallen on the stairs and broken her child’s leg. Or dropped her in the toilet during potty training. Or watched her roll off the couch during a nap and fracture her clavicle. Not that any of this has happened in my house . . . oh, wait. Yes, it has. All of it.
So if a first-time mother-to-be asks my advice, I’ll try to be useful. I’ll tell her that we’re all human, that all children are different, that just because one cries all the time doesn’t mean the next one will too. And that however labor and delivery play out, they eventually end and her baby is waiting on the other side. I’ll tell her that babies are resilient and, thankfully, pretty much memory-free for the first couple years.
And when I’m done, I’ll tell her that, yes. I would do it all again . . . in a heartbeat.
Maggie Lamond Simone is a book author, award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at