When you come home from the hospital after having a baby, you can feel a lot of things. Feeling uncertain about parenting, worrying about milk supply, and experiencing emotional ups and downs due to hormones can be exhausting. Now enter a toxic family member into the mix, and the postpartum experience can feel even harder and more isolating.
In a perfect world, all family members would swoop in with coffee, unconditional support, and love, but sometimes, they don’t meet that bar. Instead, they bring drama, judgment, and selfishness and this brings more stress to new parents and their adjustment in postpartum. This can bring a toxic energy to your new family.
Many new parents need to create boundaries that allow them to be more healthy and establish their own family rhythms. We will walk you through some ways to navigate and protect your postpartum period with a toxic family member, how to manage baby visitors, and become resilient to unsolicited advice.
How should new parents handle visitors in the first few weeks after birth?
Visitors are awesome if they are helpful and bring your stress levels down. The need in the immediate postpartum is twofold: rest and cultivating a space of safety and comfort in such a vulnerable time. Sometimes visitors end up adding to the stress if you have to meet their needs instead of your own. This can feel draining.
If you have family members who will do whatever you need without making a big deal about it, they will be great to have around! Helpful visitors will not just show up to hold the cute new baby, they will be there to tend to you and your feelings. They will not make it about themselves, they will prioritize and honour the major life transition this is for YOU! Keep those people around and close – they are amazing supports to have.
If however, your visitors are there to meet their own needs by spending too much time talking to you, expecting you to feed them or doing other draining activities, try to keep their visits short or limited completely. It helps to communicate to them before their arrival about how they could assist and get some of your needs met.
An example script for baby’s visitors could go something like this:
- Potential Visitor:“Hey, can we come over tomorrow at 5 for dinner and to see the baby?”
- You:“I would love to have you come meet the baby! We are limiting visitors to brief, 30 minute visits where they can say hello. We are super tired and working on figuring out how to take care of this sweet baby so we can’t spend more time than that even though we would love to see you”
- Potential Visitor:“Oh of course! So we can come from 5-5:30?”
- You:“That works great! Hey, would you mind stopping at the store and picking up some cat food and a frozen pizza on your way?”
A lot of people are well intentioned and want to help and do the right thing but need some direction. Asking for help allows them to be more helpful! You get the cat food and pizza (basic needs met), your friends feel like they have helped you, AND you set a boundary kindly and clearly so you get the self-care you need. WIN-WIN!
What if the family dynamics are toxic and new parents are worried about getting the support they need?
In today’s age, we are getting more and more aware of what relationships bring real support and which ones drain and bring more issues. When having a baby, it is a good time to start establishing boundaries and rhythms that work for your family. This time is all about you and your baby! You get to create the space, home and experience that you need to thrive. If you have family members that are toxic or bring discomfort to your home it is best to be clear with expectations from the start. Some examples of clear communications while keeping some distance are:
- “We are choosing to not have visitors in the first 6 weeks. Thank you for understanding our need for privacy.”
- “We will facetime or Zoom with family members for you to meet the baby and to avoid unnecessary exposure.” (yes, you have permission to blame Covid if you need.)
- “We are desiring a quiet postpartum transition and we will let you know when we are ready for you to visit.”
- “We would like you to come visit from 10am-12pm. Thank you for respecting this timeframe. We really need our rest”.
“When you are from a dysfunctional family, healthy boundaries are viewed as threatening. Making an observations, expressing an expectation refusing to be involved in chaos, or expressing a different view point, will likely lead to you being labeled mean, funny acting or weird. Not going along with typical chaos can seem like you are making waves in the family. The truth is you are making waves; you are breaking the cycle of dysfunction and that isn’t always received well by others.” Nedra Tawwab
Parents with difficult family structures can really benefit from the non-biased professional support from a postpartum doula. The experience of having someone safe, non-judgmental and truly nurturing can be just what the new mom needs in this vulnerable time.
What is the best way for parents to dodge unsolicited advice from well meaning family or friends (or strangers)?
This is a hard thing to navigate! One of the awesome things about being a parent is that ultimately you are the parent and get to choose how to parent your own child. I think shared knowledge of different strategies is a great way to figure out what resonates with you and aligns with your core values.
However, if there are strings attached, or shame or guilt, that adds to the challenge. And trust us…we’ve had our share of shame and mom guilt. Here are some ways to find your own voice and feel more secure in your parenting!
- Find groups online with other like-minded folks so you can feel the support in your choices and get advice from them about how to tread through these conversations.
- Vent to a trusted friend who provides you a safe space to work through the bigger emotions of this unsolicited advice. Journal out the feelings it brings up.
- Text your Postpartum Doula – sometimes just hearing how audacious the advice was can be validating.
There is often much advice given from a friend or mother-in-law, some desired and others not. People offer advice because they think they are helpful. Sometimes hearing from other can be helpful and other times it might be very unwelcomed and even triggering. The reality is, we are all individuals with pasts and projections, and what works for one person may be detrimental to another.
It’s important to remember that you get to guard your own heart. You are the parent now. Your job is is to parcel through all the options, pick the ones that feel right, and try them on. If the advice works for you that is so great! If the advice doesn’t work for you…that is also great! You get to choose your own value system and decisions in life…and move on without guilt or shame.
Know that you are figuring this parenting thing out along the way. There is no arrival. There is no doing it all right or even knowing what is right for you until YOU figure it out what works. You are going to make mistakes and so will everyone else. We all do. No one is perfect. No mother or parent is perfect. We are all doing our best. And the focus on this new role of parenting is that you get to listen to your own inner voice, wisdom and intuition and trust that! Toss out the advice that doesn’t serve you, or work for you.
It’s helpful to find some safe people whom you can trust to bounce ideas off of without risk of judgement – enter the role of the postpartum doula!
Why a Postpartum Doula is essential to those with complex family dynamics or those without family in town.
As a Postpartum doula, our hearts are with the exhausted parents who need some unconditional love, nourishing meals, and someone to hold that vulnerable space for them. While we love babies, that’s not what draws us in. We are postpartum doula for the parents.
Recognizing that not all parents have reliable nearby family support, we offer unbiased assistance to fill that gap. It’s so important for new parents to not feel isolated or anxious when bringing home a newborn. A Postpartum Doula can ease anxiety and provide calm in the challenging first weeks, offering valuable support to the family.
The postpartum doula grasps the parents’ and family’s physical and emotional needs during the transition of welcoming a new family member. This includes knowledge and experience in the physical and emotional needs of the birthing parent and the partner.
Postpartum doulas can provide baby education, nourish you with snacks and meals that they prepare, do light housework, run errands for you, provide baby care while you sleep or shower, and help with breastfeeding.
A baby nurse or nanny is skilled with baby care, but isn’t trained in how to support the birthing parent physically and emotionally. Nor is it their job to know these things. They can be experts in infant care for sure, but are not usually expected to “take care of” the adults the way a postpartum doula can.
A postpartum doula offers unbiased and unconditional support, ensuring new parents feel accompanied and supported throughout their journey.
We help answer questions, guide and educate in those first weeks. Along every parent’s journey, we assist them in discovering what suits them best, offering full support. We provide a safe place to be a sounding board of unconditional respect to all clients.
When it comes to breastfeeding parents, how does a postpartum doula help facilitate that relationship while still allowing the parent some rest?
Postpartum doulas can be super helpful to breastfeeding parents! They are trained in normality of breastfeeding, can aid in holds and latch and milk production. If there might be a more complex issue presenting, the Postpartum Doula will get the parents connected with an IBCLC Lactation Consultant.
The doula can bring snacks (or whole meals!) to the breastfeeding parent while she’s are feeding baby, and support during the feed to ensure she are as comfortable as possible. We can readjust pillows, bring phones and chargers etc. and then if desired, we can take the baby as soon as she is done feeding to burp them, change diapers, soothe and hold them while the parent goes right to sleep. Most often we are giving the breastfeeding parent tips to make things easier, encouraging them of what is normal and what they are doing well which is gold in those first weeks of so much worry.
Postpartum doulas can even do overnight visits. For these, we do all the baby things possible during the night so the parent only needs to sit up in bed while we bring baby to her for feedings. We then hold and care for baby the rest of the time. This can be the reset and recharge parents need to be more present and calm the next day.
As a postpartum doula, we aren’t there to fix…we are there to walk with.
Wanting postpartum doula support in the Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR area? Schedule a FREE doula consult here!