In addition to teaching Childbirth Preparation classes, I’m also a tour guide for one of the oldest hospitals in the area – old enough to have two separate wings. One is for labor and delivery, and the other is for recovery and discharge. There are only 12 labor and delivery suites and about 40 postpartum rooms. The distinction between suite and room is not made lightly – the suites are big! Big enough so laboring women don’t feel the need to have to walk hallways to help their labors progress. Big enough for water birth tubs to be brought in for those Mommas who are wanting that experience. There’s no way the number of patients who come through this hospital could give birth here if they stayed in one of these twelve suites.
So following the first breastfeeding session, Momma, partner and baby are gathered up and wheeled over to the Family Birth Center, or postpartum unit. On my tours, I walk my groups through both units. Back in the classroom, before we head upstairs, I make sure to tell them how tiny the postpartum rooms are. I make sure they know that the room will appear to shrink as I make the entire group walk inside with me into this little space. I do it on purpose – I want them to feel what it might be like to have just given birth to their baby only hours before and then be bombarded by visitors.
I think the small postpartum room is the best idea ever! In fact, I think it should be the design for all new hospital construction – although no one has consulted me on this point. It’s the best forced-upon-you-gift that anyone could ever give you as a new parent.
We have this weird practice in our culture that no matter the circumstances of our birth, we should be leaving the doors to our room wide open so that everyone in the extended family can come and visit. The FBC units at hospitals are usually the only ones that don’t have strict visiting hours. It’s the one place in the entire hospital where if the baby is born at 3 am and Grandma must meet her new grandchild at 3:05 am, she will be welcomed with open arms! But is this the best policy?
I tell folks on my tours that if they have tons of extended family in the area then they have my permission to lie when it comes to visiting hours. They can say that the visiting hours are only on Tuesday mornings from 6:15-6:45. Whatever they need to do to keep the visitors away. If the Momma has help (she should always have at least one person who stays with her the entire time she is in the hospital to help with the workload that comes along with a newborn) then really everyone else should just stay home and leave the couple alone.
Unfortunately, not enough new parents understand this and so they actually invite visitors to come and see the baby. They end up with a steady stream of people walking in and out throughout normal waking hours while their baby is sleeping (and the parents should be sleeping!) and then there are never any extra hands in the middle of the night when baby is wide awake and parents so desperately want to be asleep! When we’re receiving visitors, we force ourselves to be up and chatty and peppy and ready to show off our little angel – but inside, we might be wanting to just snuggle with our new baby, learn how to get the hang of breastfeeding and doze on and off throughout the day.
When we have the internal struggle between what we think we “should” be doing and what we really “want” to be doing, this causes conflict. We fake it most of the time and when the visitors finally stop coming, we break down from exhaustion or from our hormones shifting – and our partners have to pick up the pieces.
The only things Mommas should be worried about in the immediate postpartum period is getting to know their newborns, learning how to breastfeed, and beginning the physical and emotional recovery process. Every single visitor we entertain takes away from all three of these extremely important and full-time jobs.
Not everyone will understand your baby’s early feeding cues – when your baby starts mouthing its fingers, she’s telling you that she’s could eat if you were up to feeding her. This is a subtle feeding cue and can be missed by Aunt Marge as she’s cooing at your adorable little girl. Guess when Aunt Marge will hand your baby back over to you? When she starts crying – a very late feeding cue. You’ll have to soothe your baby before you can even begin to try and breastfeed her, and because she’s only a few hours old and tires easily, she might just fall asleep. You’ve missed out on a breastfeeding session and will need to wait until she wakes to try again later.
Your immediate physical recovery can involve fatigue, breast and nipple soreness, and wearing an adult diaper so that you don’t have to change pads every 1/2 hour! Your emotional recovery can mean mood swings that can change minute by minute almost as your hormones try to realign themselves. You need time and space to just be. When you fake a smile and waste energy entertaining visitors, your whole recovery process gets delayed.
This is a post that not a lot of grandparents will appreciate! But some new parents might want to print it off and hand it to friends and family members at the baby shower. You could say something like, “It’s not me – it’s this woman, Barb Buckner Suárez! She says that we really shouldn’t have very many visitors for the first 2 weeks! I know, right? If it were up to me, I’d have you all over immediately, but she says it’s a bad idea – so…” and then just walk away.
Listen, all of your friends and family will still come to visit you – even if the baby is 2 weeks old! They’re still cute as can be and tiny and wonderful, but you’ll be in a different place by then and better able to gauge whether or not it’s a good time for visitors. Partners are fantastic about being the bouncer at the door and making sure that no one gets in that’s not on the list – understanding that the list can be changed at any time, for any reason. There should also be clear communication that the only way a visitor gets in to see the baby is if they bring food. Again, you can decide if it’s a good time to visit with them or not – if not, they need to make more food and try again some other day.
There’s one more thing about visitors – and it’s big. Throughout the whole pregnancy, Mommas are given special attention. People are always asking you when you’re due, they open doors for you and give up their seats on the bus for you, total strangers make eye contact with you and smile – it’s so nice. But all of that changes immediately once the baby is out of you! The focus moves to the baby completely leaving you to feel like an afterthought. It’s hard when visitor after visitor streams in and oohs and aahs over your baby and barely makes eye contact with you. You have been dethroned and this can sting a little bit. Yet another reason to hold off on the visitors until you’re feeling a little less emotional and a little more on your feet.
I’m not anti-visitors – well, mostly I am, but not completely. You can have as many visitors as you’d like, they can even stay at your house with you in those first days and weeks. As long as they’re the type of visitor who does your laundry, scrubs your toilet, makes you healthy snacks, does your grocery shopping, vacuums your entire house – you get the idea. Holding the baby while you make dinner for them is not okay. That kind of visitor should not be allowed near you or the baby for the first three months or so! Be very, very picky about who you choose to come for a visit in those first days and weeks after the baby is born. In this immediate postpartum period, you need visitors who will support you by letting you have as much time as possible working those three full-time jobs – getting to know your newborn, learning how to breastfeed, and recovering emotionally and physically.
If you limit the amount of visitors in your space in the immediate postpartum time, as well as in those first couple of weeks, I promise you’ll be able to engage with them so much more when you’re ready for them to visit. Protect that bubble of connection between you, your partner and your baby. If you have too many visitors one of them might end up popping it!
When you had your first baby, how many visitors did you want to have? How many did you end up having? Was it too many? How did visitors affect your postpartum period?