It doesn’t take a pandemic to keep grandparents from being able to help out after a new baby arrives. Work schedules, finances, geography, ill health—there are many reasons why you may not be able to be on the scene to support new parents. But there are still ways you can help! So far we've covered hiring a postpartum doula, sleep consultant and household help.
Today Katie Clark of The Breastfeeding Mama shares how breastfeeding support can help new mothers.
According to a UC Davis study, the vast majority of new moms report having trouble breastfeeding - around 92%. Through my own experience, the number one thing that helped when I was struggling to breastfeed my own children was support - especially from my own mother.
Breastfeeding and infant nutrition recommendations have changed over the years, and the prevalence of breastfeeding has increased as well. This may make it difficult for grandparents to know the best way to support their breastfed grandchild and his or her parents, especially if they aren’t familiar with breastfeeding.
To a new mom, just knowing she has someone in her corner cheering her on can make a bad day a little bit easier. Even if the new mom isn’t struggling with something specific, the early days of breastfeeding can be exhausting! Kind words go a long way.
How Can Grandparents Help?
First of all, be gentle - new moms have tons of hormones and emotions that are all over the place. Even if she’s doing something different than you did, try to be kind in your recommendations.
Be encouraging - simply having someone say, “I’m here for you” can make a world of difference. Saying something like, “Just give a bottle” or “Formula works just fine!” might not be the best approach. There may come a time when a mother needs to be told it’s okay to stop breastfeeding, but I would avoid jumping to that at the first sign of trouble. The vast majority of breastfeeding problems have solutions with the right support.
Encourage the new mom to take a breastfeeding class and attend with them if they need you to. Online breastfeeding classes are affordable, can be taken at home, and are a good resource for grandparents who want to be as helpful as possible.
Educate yourself - there’s so much information available on breastfeeding these days. My favorite website is KellyMom.com for up-to-date information on pretty much every topic related to breastfeeding. I also have many useful articles on my websites, The Breastfeeding Mama and Clarks Condensed. Breastfeeding Essentials is one of our mini classes that might be especially helpful for a grandparent.
Offer to find help - if you see a mother struggling, reaching out for help might be difficult for her. Being sleep deprived and overwhelmed, she might not even know where to start. Thankfully, there are a lot of lactation specialists available these days, so when you find you can’t offer the support you want, you can help direct a new mom in the right direction. It can be a little overwhelming to know exactly what each kind of lactation specialists does, so here is an overview of the three main categories:
When each of my first two grandchildren was born, I went to help my son and his wife for the first week or so. I did all the things my mother had done for me: keeping up with the laundry, fixing meals and filling the freezer, sweeping floors and doing dishes. My third grandchild, however, arrived just days before the nation shut down because of Covid-19—and all the help I wanted to give was impossible.
Luckily, I had visited the month before and the freezer was full for the first couple of weeks after the baby arrived. But as time has worn on, I’ve looked for ways to help without actually being there. If you can’t be where help is needed, there are a variety of services that can fill in for you. Read on for some services you can offer to arrange if your grandbaby’s parents are open to them.
In the second article in our series on ways grandparents can help out after a new baby arrives, my own daughter-in-law shares her experience with a sleep consultant. If you missed Part One on postpartum doulas, find it here.
When we were expecting our third child, we had a multi-month plan to prepare our two-year-old for the arrival of the new baby. We would 1) potty train her, 2) adjust her to a toddler bed, 3) take away her pacifier, and 4) introduce her to the room she'd be sharing with her four-year-old brother. It was a neat, orderly plan that looked fantastic on paper. The steps were accomplished mostly on schedule, and everything seemed to be progressing smoothly, until the baby came two and a half weeks early. The night after we combined the two kids into their new room, we brought home the new baby.
As you probably guessed, the two-year-old stopped sleeping. Everything in her life had changed! A new baby, a tired mama, a new room, (not to mention a pandemic that meant she couldn't leave the house even to go to the park). Each day, after getting 4-5 hours of sleep because of all the screaming, I tried to muster up some sympathy for her tiny little life. On top of the sleeping problems, she turned two and started tantruming at the drop of a hat. I read books and articles on sleeping, but nothing helped. I felt that everything I tried was making it worse, and she stayed up later and later each night crying before slipping into a fitful sleep.
Meanwhile, my mother-in-law told me about sleep consultants and asked me if I'd like to try one. I could tell from the first call with Mary from Rest to Your Nest that she had some insider information that even an avid parenting-book-reader couldn't get a hold of. She listened to our habits, routines, and problems and made some practical suggestions. She suggested we move our older child out of the room with the two-year-old for two weeks so that we could focus on sleep training her and making sure she felt safe in her new room. I had never even considered that!
Mary created an in-depth sleep plan specifically for our family's needs that included a family meeting, putting blackout curtains on the windows, and collaborating on a sleep poster. We ended up changing our whole sleep routine to incorporate the earlier bedtime and suggestions for better sleep. After the first night (which included 15 minutes of tantrums and 1 night wake up), she's slept about 11 hours every night and taken a 1.5-hour nap with almost no complaining. She's turning back into her pre-new-baby self: each day I see more of her beautiful, strong personality, and less of the sleep-deprived tantrums that I had incorrectly attributed to her age.
When you're in the middle of a situation, especially one that affects your judgement, like sleep, it's easy to get into the habit of just powering through the days, waiting for time to magically fix the problems for you. It's possible that my kids would have learned how to sleep on their own in 6-12 months… but what sort of shape would I have been in at that time? It wouldn't have been pretty, I can tell you that. Instead, our whole family is now getting the sleep that we need and we can all bond with the new baby from a place of peace and love instead of teeth-gritting sleep-deprivation. So thanks to DeeDee and Mary from Rest to Your Nest!
The Family Sleep Institute is a great place to start your search for a sleep consultant. With my daughter-in-law's blessing, I found three to interview, talked to each about their methods, and shared what I learned with her. She was exhausted enough to let me make the final decision, but make sure your family is on board with any steps you take.
It doesn’t take a pandemic to keep grandparents from being able to help out after a new baby arrives. Work schedules, finances, geography, ill health—there are many reasons why you may not be able to be on the scene to help the new parents. That doesn’t mean you can’t help out, though. In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some ways that you can support new parents without being there.
Today, we’ll hear from Sheryl Cooksley, a postpartum doula from Family Tree Doula Services. Enjoy!
Not so long ago, grandparents were allowed inside the hospitals, birth centers or homes where their latest grandbaby (or babies) was being born. Not now.
Grandparents could fly across the country without hesitation and race in to see the new family all in the same day. Not now.
Grandparents were retired, empty nesters with unlimited time on their hands to provide endless joyful hours providing care to the new family. Not now.
Although grandparents had to be very cautious, especially during flu season, they did not have to follow the protocols that are becoming the new normal during this pandemic. Washing hands and using hand sanitizer has always been a requirement to be around new babies, but donning masks, self-isolation, even quarantining are all present-day necessities for new grandparents. These obstacles may leave grandparents feeling helpless and angry.
They wanted to cook meals and fold those cute tiny baby clothes and HOLD THEIR GRANDBABY. They wanted to guide the new parents using the knowledge they gathered in their Grandparent Bootcamp and from a lifetime of caring for children and babies. They took the time to get up-to-date and learn all about the mountains of baby gear, new parenting philosophies and grandparent etiquette. They had planned on doing the night shift and making sure the new parents were well prepared to be on their own. They were ready to be the best grandparents (and parents) EVER.
This was not how it was supposed to be!
This was not what they had planned.
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"[Grandmother and I] approached every day together as an adventure, filled with the simple joys and discoveries that are fresh and new to a child and that can also make a grandmother feel fresh and new again.” Sharon Lovejoy, Camp Granny
If you want to impart a sense of wonder in your grandchildren, this book is a must. Building on the legacy of her own grandmother, Lovejoy provides simple, inexpensive ideas for tapping into your grandchild’s curiosity and creativity. From setting up your home before your grandchildren come to visit to making bean soup into a lesson in growing, she will guide you through adventures that you’ll enjoy as much as your grandchildren will. The book itself is beautiful and well-written. Put Camp Granny on your wish list, or treat yourself to it today. Just make sure you read it before your grandchildren’s next visit!
Anyone else feeling sad that the trip to or from the grandkids just isn’t going to happen this summer? How about creating a virtual vacation?
Last year, we had an idyllic week by the lake with all of our kids and grandkids. We watched the 14-month-old learn to walk, pushing a milk crate around the deck. Pops had a ready helper for every chore and a willing companion for errands. We had long dinners outside, early morning kayak rides, and endless bowls of cherries. One evening a raccoon even came by and washed his hands in the stream on the property right in front of us, like the universe had gifted us a special memory.
I spent every afternoon luxuriating in having my family all in one place. I knew then that we were lucky to be able to gather everyone, and that I shouldn’t expect it to happen every year. It’s hard to get everyone’s schedule to align, and with their third baby in four years, my son’s family warned us that they won’t be traveling for a couple of years.
Still, I didn’t expect a pandemic to make it even harder to be together.
When you first heard what your future grandchild was to be named, were you instantly alarmed?
"Muriel is too old-fashioned!" "Juniper is too modern!"
"Slade is just weird!" "Feebee? Spell it right!"
"I knew a dreadful girl named Lindsay!"
"George is such an ugly name!"
Of course you have opinions—names are powerful and, usually, permanent. One in five grandparents admits to hating a grandchild’s name. Actually hating it! What do you do if you are one of them?
First, what you don’t do: tell your grandchild’s parents that you hate it. You don’t need to fake enthusiasm, but you do not want to be among the 2% of grandparents who have a permanent falling-out over something that is, ultimately, none of your business. Grandparenting is one long lesson in when to bite your tongue, and it starts here.
If you can do so without revealing how much you dislike their choice, ask why the name is meaningful to them. Their reasons may help you see the name in a different light. Perhaps George was a beloved uncle, or Lindsay a best friend who died young.
Next, realize that the name will likely grow on you as soon as you have a delightful baby to attach it to--more than 75% of the grandparents who initially disliked their grandchild's name have learned to accept it over time. If you really can’t stand it, try out a nickname that will be your special name for the child. Two things to be careful of: if the parents object, respect their wishes. And make sure it’s something that you can use when they are a teenager!
Did you hate your grandchild's name when you first heard it? Please share your experience in the comments!
When Lesley Stahl became a grandmother, she was stunned by the way it affected her emotionally. Ever the reporter, she set about to find out whether her experience was the norm. Becoming Grandma is the engaging, informative result of her research. As she shares stories of her transformation into Grandma, she explores the ways grandparents can play an important role in their grandchildren’s lives. Stahl offers insight into the complexities of a being a grandparent in today’s world, where a child may have four sets of grandparents and parents are inundated with parenting advice from the internet. This well-researched book is well worth reading--buy a copy and lend it out to your grandmother friends.
Have you read this book? What did you think?
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