Dear expectant grandparents,
Congratulations! Whether this is your first or fourteenth grandchild, you are no doubt overjoyed to hear that your family is expanding and you are anxious to be helpful and involved. What a special time! Your son(in-law) and daughter(in-law) are certainly thrilled to share this excitement with you. As you anticipate meeting this new sweet little bundle of joy, there will be many opportunities to show your support to the expectant parents. Current research shows that the birth experience has a long lasting impact on families, so please accept these words of advice to help make this exciting time as safe, harmonious and joyful as possible.
Before the Birth
You may notice that the parents of your grandchild are doing research, taking classes and exploring options about pregnancy and birth. They may make decisions for their baby that differ from the decisions that you made for your babies. Please do not take this personally. Each set of parents are entitled to make their own decisions with the information they have. Do not feel obligated to justify your own choices. This is the beauty of raising adults- they get to make these heavy decisions and bear the responsibility for them. If you have questions, ask for reasoning with patience and respect.
The mother may not give birth by the estimated due date. In fact, labor may not begin for days or weeks after the due date. This can be normal and healthy, as the average pregnancy lasts 41 weeks and 1 day. She may be emotional or even feel guilty for making family “wait” longer than expected. Try to alleviate her of any pressure and show patience and understanding.
Ask how you can help and what the parents expect from you when the time for the birth arrives. If they do not ask you to attend the birth, do not take this personally. Birth is a very private and personal event. This does not mean they intend to exclude you, but that their priorities are for privacy and minimal interruption to the birth process. The mother needs to feel uninhibited to follow her instincts, moving and making noises freely. She may be concerned about your comfort level in that setting and needs to avoid being distracted from her goal- birthing her baby! Here are some ideas for other things you can do during the birth:
- Take care of older children or pets
- Make sure the house is ready and tidied up to receive the new family at their homecoming
- Prepare or plan a meal for the parents to eat after the birth
- Agree to spread the news to friends and family and be the “secretary” for the new parents
On the other hand, they may ask you to attend. What an honor! Here are some things you should know to expect:
- The mother’s birth experience may be very different from yours. In early labor, she will need to rest. Be mindful of the atmosphere and help keep things calm and quiet.
- As labor progresses, the mother may move around and get into various positions: walking, bouncing on a ball, swaying, leaning on hands and knees, sitting on the toilet, getting in the shower or tub, etc.
- She may be fully clothed or be more comfortable in little or no clothing. Her freedom to be comfortable will greatly influence how smoothly she labors.
- Smells and loud noises or even laughter may be offensive to a laboring mother. Please be mindful of this and again, do not take it personally if she asks for changes in her environment.
- Labor may last just a few hours or several days. Many variations can be normal, but all birth requires patience. The mother should not feel like a “watched pot” or feel any pressure to fit to a schedule.
- Some women become quiet and withdrawn in labor and others become loud and emotional. Some women prefer not to be touched and other needs lots of physical touch and verbal support. This could also change throughout labor.
- The mother may vomit, urinate or poop during labor. This is all a normal part of birth.
- If at any point the parents must consider unplanned interventions, give them space to discuss options and make a decision with their birth team.
- During the moment of birth, the mother should be allowed to push on instinct and this may take time. The mother may not want you in her immediate space. Allow her the space and privacy to focus on birthing her baby.
- After the baby is born, the mother will birth the placenta. This could take a few minutes or an hour, but the birth team will want to make sure this process goes smoothly.
- If the parents ask you to leave during the birth, remember, this is not personal. They may need time alone, less distraction for the mother or they may have just changed their minds and want to welcome their child alone. Show grace and understanding- they will appreciate it long after the birth!
After the Birth
The moments after the birth will be a flurry of excitement!
- If all went smoothly, the mother should hold her baby skin-to-skin without interruption for at least an hour. The time is called “The Golden Hour” because it is a perfect time for mother and baby to bond. The mother’s body is flooded with mothering hormones and the baby is comforted to be “home” in his mother’s arms.
- The mother should be able to breastfeed for as long as is comfortable. This is also a great tool for minimizing mother’s bleeding after the birth.
- As excited as you are to soak up some time with the new babe, help ensure this time is not rushed by encouraging patience by all friends and family to delay holding the baby themselves. If the mother has a cesarean, especially, the baby should not be passed around amongst family before the mom has a chance to hold him. The father should be the only one to hold the baby until mom is ready to receive baby in recovery. In any case, it may be several hours before others hold the baby, but what is most important is making sure the baby and mother bond and that breastfeeding is initiated successfully. This can have long-lasting effects on mother’s and baby’s health and relationship!
- The parents may ask you to leave so they can have some time alone to process the birth and celebrate together.
- The parents may request no bottles or pacifiers until breastfeeding is well established. You can help make sure this is respected.
- The parents may not want to be separated from the baby after birth. This is a reasonable and encouraging request- they are enjoying the reward of the labor! This instinct of protection may last for days or month after the birth, as well. Your understanding of this will be so appreciated!
- Soon after the birth, the mother and father will probably be tired and hungry. If you can, help them get a good meal and then some quiet time to rest. They need to recover and catch sleep while they can!
In the days and weeks after the birth, it is important for the mother to recover from birth and allow her body time to heal. She should remain in bed for most of the day and should be able to nurse her baby without limitation. This will help establish good milk supply and give the baby a great start nutritionally. She will need help with meals, laundry, errands and other chores. Any help you can offer or organize will be a priceless gifts to the new mama!
As you probably know, each birth and each baby are unique. I hope these tips help you know how to best show love to the new parents and the baby. There is nothing like welcoming a new child into a family. May this birth bring your family happiness and bond you as only a birth can!
~ A mama and childbirth educator