Dear New Grandma or Grandpa,
Congratulations! You have entered into the fabulous and fun world of grandchildren. You get to relive those joyous days of baby cuddles, squishy cheeks, and tiny toes without the pressures and responsibilities of being a new parent.
But wait! How is it possible that your baby is able to care for a baby? They must need your help and advice because they’ve never done this before.
I’m so glad that you want to help. They do need your help. But before you run in to rescue your grandbaby and take over, there are a few things you need to know. Many advances in medicine and parenting have been made since you were a new parent. That means that what you did as a parent may not be considered correct or even safe. Yes, your child survived into adulthood even though you did things “wrong”, but we have learned so much that can make life better for our children and their children.
Check your perspective. Your child is the parent, not you. They make the rules and you follow them. They have the final say in how to parent your grandchild. This is a major paradigm shift in your relationship with your adult child and it can take some getting used to your new position. Will mistakes be made? Yes. Should you step in? Maybe. Unless imminent physical harm is about to come to the baby, step back and take a breath.
To help you help them, let me bring you up to date on current practices.
At the hospital.
Resist the urge to run in and scoop up the baby right after birth. The first hour of outside the womb is a critical period of mother/child bonding. The new mother needs to touch, stroke and smell her baby. These simple actions will help her mothering instincts to grow and will increase the likelihood and success of breastfeeding. A great resource for more information on what happens in the first hour of life is here from Raylene Phillips, MD, IBCLC, FAAP.
We have also learned more about the relationship between a baby and what is known as the “microbiome”. As the baby grows in utero, they are seeded with trillions of microscopic organisms that they receive from mom, dad, and anyone living in the house. Once the baby is born, their body recognizes the microorganisms from those people as “safe”. The introduction of a new microbiome from new people can upset the internal balance and put the baby’s body under stress. It would be best for you, the grandparents to wait until the mother is ready for you to hold the baby. The mom should be the only one to hold the baby for the first hour. For more information, read these articles from Penny Simkin and Anne Estes
It is impossible to spoil a newborn by holding them too much, so encourage the new parent to hold and cuddle the baby for as long and as often as they wish. Babies want to be held. They need to be held. Being held by a loving caregiver calms the baby. Being held lowers stress and cortisol levels. The skin-to-skin contact is their happy place. This article from Psychology Today further explains the importance of holding the baby. Holding and playing with a newborn helps with their brain and social development.(1)
No bottles mean no bottles. I know you want to help the new mom get more sleep by sneaking in a bottle of formula. That one bottle can upset the delicate balance of breastfeeding success. Current World Health Organization breastfeeding guidelines state that no bottle or pacifier should be introduced before 4 weeks of age.(2) Once breastfeeding is well established and if the parents want to, then a bottle feeding can be introduced.
Solid foods should not be introduced until 4- 6 months of age. That includes rice cereal. The newborn’s gut needs to grow and mature so that it can handle the complexities of solid food.(3)
Babies need to sleep on their backs. This is one step in preventing SIDS or Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID). Their head naturally turns to the side, so they are not going to choke if they spit up. There should be nothing in the crib with the baby except a firm mattress. That means no bumpers, blankets or toys in the crib or bassinet.(4) It is also recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that the newborn should sleep in the same room as the parents. This allows for easy night parenting. The babies feel more secure because they know the parents are there with them.(5) There are those who believe it is safe to bed-share if:
1. Babies are being breastfed.
2. Parents are non-smokers.
3. Parents are not on any medication, prescribed or not.
4. Parents are not intoxicated.
5. Mattress should be firm and excess blankets and pillows removed.
6. Parents must have no medical conditions that cause them to sleep deeply.
Dr. James McKenna has been at the forefront of this research.(6)
All babies are to be in rear-facing car seats until they are 1-2 years old, depending on your state’s law.(7)
What can you do?
Help with household duties. Make meals, do the dishes, wash and fold the laundry, or do some light housekeeping. If you don’t live nearby, hire a postpartum doula as a gift for the new family. Doula Match can help
Entertain any siblings so the new parents can bond with the baby.
If you are coming from out of town, don’t expect to be entertained or go sightseeing with the new family. Make plans to do activities on your own. If space is limited, stay at a nearby hotel.
Be supportive and encouraging. Offer a shoulder to cry on, a neck massage, and a listening ear. Avoid giving advice unless you are asked.
Hold the baby when the parents need a break.
Enjoy this precious time!
Your adult child has read, prepped and learned how to care for your grandchild. What new parents need most is help, support and encouragement as they make this important transition to parenthood. Just by being present, you will let them know that you have confidence in them as parents.