How to set boundaries (and stick to them) with a new baby

If you’re anything like me, your idea of planning for postpartum is buying cute baby outfits and ensuring your pantry is stocked with enough food to last a nuclear apocalypse (or, like, at least a few weeks). Turns out there’s more to it than that. 

Your postpartum period is a time to recover from birth, bond with your new bub, and learn all the new things that motherhood brings – and trust me, there’s a lot to unpack there. It is NOT a time for unwelcome visitors and having to host all your extended relatives who want to cuddle your baby (unless you want to do that!).

I say that because I had a pretty crazy experience with people overstepping boundaries post-birth. And I know now that this happened because I hadn’t communicated (or even thought about) what I wanted at all.

Let me just paint a picture for you…

My son had been ejected from my body naught but an hour earlier, and the midwives had only just finished mopping up what they referred to as ‘a scene from Vampire Diaries’. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and completely topless. 

And then, all of a sudden, my entire family was in the hospital room with me. Parents, in-laws, siblings, siblings’ partners… the works. All peering at my slimy newborn and my bare boobs.

I was not exactly thrilled. I couldn’t believe they’d all just come uninvited! Sure enough, I’d overlooked the importance of setting clear visitor boundaries and communicating them with my family.

Oh, but my tale of mortification doesn’t end there. 

A mere day or two after returning from hospital, a close relative began sending me texts demanding a visit so they could hold the baby. They literally said, “I don’t like the idea of other people meeting him before I do”… as though I was having a raging party with all my friends, pass-the-parcelling my baby around, not shuffling my broken body around the house at 1km/hr and sobbing into my blood-stained bedsheets waiting for the Baby Blues to pass.

So yeah, I’ve got some things to say about setting boundaries and sticking to them with a new baby. And thankfully for those inclined towards a more professional opinion, nutritionist, postpartum doula and Founder of Mother Unearthed Amy Pasfield offers some great advice for setting boundaries with visitors too. 

Start discussions while you’re pregnant

Amy suggested discussing boundaries with potential visitors and your partner or support person before your baby arrives. They’ll then be able to act as a gatekeeper, ensuring that people adhere to your wishes.

“Once this is completed,” she said, “discuss these boundaries while you’re still pregnant with anyone planning to visit. This will ensure guests are well informed and (hopefully) don’t overstep boundaries.”

Tackle the topic of visiting before your baby is here, so your friends and family know when they can expect to meet their new family member.

Be clear

No amount of detail is too much when it comes to setting and communicating your boundaries.

As a start, Amy suggested considering things like:

  • How soon after the baby is born you’d like visitors – would you be happy for people to show up in the hospital room? Or would you like a few days alone before inviting people over?
  • Best times of day to visit – this may be when your partner is at work, for example, so you can get some help from your visitors
  • Tasks visitors could help with – perhaps they can hold your baby for an hour while you nap, or they could do some dishes, laundry, or even take the dog for a walk for you
  • Hygiene practices – in a post-Covid world this may include sanitising, face masks, limiting physical contact, etc.

The key to sticking to your boundaries is to communicate them to begin with. I’ve seen people post their visiting wishes (like this etiquette for visiting newborns) explicitly on Facebook so friends and family can see clearly what boundaries they’re putting in place. But you can make some phone calls or send some text messages too.

Learn to say no

“Many visitors often outstay their welcome, turn up on the doorstep unannounced or act as if the mother should be catering for them when they visit,” Amy said. “This leaves the mother exhausted and often full of resentment.”

(No Aunt Katherine, I will NOT make you a cup of tea right now – I have literally no pelvic floor to speak of.)

As much as your visitors may be excited to see your new baby, they need to respect that this time is just as much about you as it is about your baby. Your body needs to recover, and you’re going through a wildly emotional life transition too. Now is not the time to be polite. It’s the time to be brutally honest and look after yourself and your baby. So just say no!

Turn people away if they show up unannounced. Decline the offer of your work colleagues dropping by if you’re not feeling ready. Tell your grandpa who hasn’t had a whooping cough booster that he can’t hold your baby. (I had to do this with a friend… but we compensated by allowing her to see my son while I held him up like that scene from The Lion King.) 

Everyone’s feelings about visitors can be different, and you may even change your mind about what you want. The most important thing is that you put the needs of yourself and your baby before anyone else’s. Stand up for yourself and don’t feel pressured to be a certain way after giving birth. Importantly, ask for help during this time if you do need people around you. If people are going to visit, they may as well help you out a bit.

You’ll find more helpful tips, high fives, and encouraging pats on the bum on Mumli, your pocket-sized personal assistant for all things motherhood – coming to your home screen soon. Join the waitlist now.

Expert Contributor: Amy Pasfield

Mama to two darling girls, Holistic Nutritionist, and Postpartum Doula. I’m a relentless advocate for the wellbeing of Mothers, striving to create a world where Postpartum Depletion was prioritised after birth and Motherhood and Martyrdom no longer existed hand in hand. Mother Unearthed is a holistic model of care provided at a time when women need it the most.

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