Avoiding what-not-to-say moments with new parents

Britain's Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, hold the Prince of Cambridge,  as they pose for photographers outside St. Mary's Hospital exclusive Lindo Wing in London.
Britain's Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, hold the Prince of Cambridge, as they pose for photographers outside St. Mary's Hospital exclusive Lindo Wing in London.
Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Associated Press

Your sex life will never be the same. In my day …. What, not breast-feeding?

From diet tips to “little baby, little problems,” stressed, sleep-deprived new parents have heard it all. And they want you to stop.

As Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Kate, move along on their parenting journey, it seems even the queen has had a what-not-to-say moment. According to Us magazine, she exclaimed soon after William’s birth: “Thank goodness he hasn’t ears like his father!”

Most every new parent has a greatest hits of lame advice and annoying remarks. For fitness buff Brook Benten, Texas mom of 4-month-old Hayes, it included her post-baby body.

“My swollen uterus made me look like I was still five months pregnant,” said Benten. “I was elated to be a mother, but I knew good and well that I looked bad. Well-intending visitors would look me once over and say, ‘Wow! You look great!’ ”

And how should that have gone? “Compliment our baby. Tell us he is the cutest baby you’ve ever seen. But don’t compliment the body of the new mother.”

Perhaps most acutely distressed in the early months are the parents of preemies.

Megan Lubin of Philadelphia gave birth three months early to her now-2-year-old. Once he came home, she and her husband didn’t host many visitors or go out much.

“When we did interact with the outside world, the comments and questions flooded in,” she said. “We certainly didn’t mind if people were curious or genuinely interested in our son, but it was hurtful at times when strangers would compare their child to ours.”

Brandi Jordan, who owns a parenting resource center in Los Angeles, said the way to avoid ticking off new parents is pretty simple.

“I think that people should not give advice. Period,” she said. “People see it as open license when they see someone with a baby to give them their opinion on how they should have socks on, or they should have a hat on, or they need sunblock, or you shouldn’t be taking them out, they’re too young. Some people make themselves armchair experts because they’ve read a lot of things.”

Instead of advice, how about not coming over for a visit when you have a cold? How about not asking the new parents of multiples: “Are they natural or IVF?”

But Jordan has a suggestion for new parents, too: How about not rejecting outright the experiences of your own parents?

“A lot of new parents discount what their own parents actually know, but a lot of grandparents do have good traditional things that work really well,” she said.

New parents need to realize that they really do need help, she said. But make sure help is help. Visits should be 10 minutes, not two hours, in the early days unless you plan to throw in a load of laundry, do dishes or cook a meal.

Dr. Richard So, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic children’s hospital, has three kids of his own. The youngest is not yet 2. His advice for well-meaning loved ones: “Leave the lasagna or manicotti at the door.”

Among the what-not-to-say moments that set his phone ringing: “Oh my gosh, what is that rash on your baby’s face?” And “Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with your baby’s head?”

Rashes: They’re common for newborns. The head: It often exits Mom’s body somewhat misshapen.

So what should a well-intentioned visitor be doing?

“Ninety percent is just reassuring that mother that she’s doing the right things, that she’s not going to harm her baby,” he said. “All a new baby needs to do is eat, sleep, poop and grow.”

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