New Parents & Grandparents
by Susan Miller BScN
The arrival of a new baby is an eagerly anticipated event. As with other joyful family events such as weddings and holidays, the birth of a baby can also create some stress in the family if there is a lack of clarity around roles and expectations. For this reason it is wise for expectant parents and grandparents to discuss their wishes with each other right from the start. Here are some of the most common issues that come up between the older and the younger generation.
Announcing the pregnancy. It is now possible to have a pregnancy confirmed just days after conception. This exciting news is often shared with the grandparents in the early weeks of pregnancy. In the flush of excitement it is tempting for grandparents to want to announce the news to their friends. For various reasons, however, the expectant parents may want to keep their announcement under wraps for a number of weeks or months. Grandparents need to clarify with the expectant couple when it is time to “tell the world.”
Naming the baby. While it is interesting to get others’ opinions about prospective baby names, beware that this can sometimes create ambivalence and disappointments for expectant parents. Hearing a less than enthusiastic response to favourite name choices can leave the expectant parents feeling deflated and unsure. Understandably, grandparents have their preferences for baby names, but sharing these thoughts with the new parents may be taken as pressure or interference. Most pregnant couples prefer to decide on their baby’s name together, and then announce it after the birth.
Gifts for the baby. There is a plethora of wonderful and exciting things available for babies these days. New parents and grandparents may be dazzled or overwhelmed with the choices available, and the recommendations made by friends and sales people. The three major items that parents usually like to shop for before the baby is born are the infant car restraint system, a stroller and a crib. Careful research is required to ensure that the items purchased meet all current safety standards and are also convenient to use. Expectant parents look forward to shopping for these items together in the last months of the pregnancy. Generous grandparents may not realize that in purchasing these items as a surprise for the new family, they may have denied the expectant parents the pleasure of shopping and planning for their new baby together.
Most parents have some idea of other items that they would like for their baby and may already have some hand-me-downs from friends. Grandparents need to check with the parents for ideas on what to buy, and if there will be a baby registry for others to check with. Would this expectant mother want a baby shower before the birth, or only after the baby is born? It is important to ask.
Visiting at the hospital. While some parents have their babies at home with a registered midwife, the majority of expectant parents give birth in a hospital. The decision to have grandparents involved during the birth of the baby ultimately rests with the expectant couple and especially with the mother. First-time parents often do not anticipate the physical and emotional intensity of labour and birth. Having other family members in the room or even waiting down the hall may become a burden to the woman during labour.
Most couples find their birth experience to be profoundly intimate. Going through the birth together is a bonding experience that helps set a positive tone for their future shared parenting roles. In the hours and days after birth, new parents and their baby need a lot of rest and privacy together. This time is often referred to as the “babymoon.”
For breastfeeding to get off to a good start, the baby needs to go to the breast early and often in the first three days. As the mother holds her baby skin-to-skin, he is learning how to find his mother’s breast and to latch on. This takes a lot of practice for both the mother and the baby. Having the baby at the breast frequently is also nature’s way of letting the mother’s body know it is now time to make milk. This is not the time for visitors to be sitting in the mother’s hospital room holding the baby for hours on end. These first days are the window of opportunity to stimulate the milk producing cells that will sustain milk production in the weeks and months to come. Most first-time parents do not realize that decreased opportunities for skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding in the first days can lead to significant breastfeeding challenges in the weeks and months that follow. Visits with the new family during the first few days in the hospital or at home need to be very short and sweet.
New baby and parents come home. There seems to be an unspoken expectation that the grandparents will be on the scene as soon as baby comes home. In many circumstances this may be the very best thing but it all depends on the people, the culture and the family dynamics. Generally, if grandparents are coming from far away and will be staying in the home with the new family, it is best to wait until the baby is at least a couple of weeks old.
In the past, the new mother’s mother or sisters helped her out in the early days after the baby was born. Times have changed, however, and now fathers are expected to be more hands-on and involved than in previous generations. In the early days fathers need this opportunity to care for the mother and the new baby. Most first-time parents like time alone together to get to know their baby and to gain experience and confidence in their new parenting role. Having even the most “maintenance-free” visitors in the home can be tiring and distracting for the new parents at this time. Grandparents can help by respecting the new parents’ wishes for privacy, and by affirming their parenting approaches. Dropping by unannounced is never on, but phoning ahead to deliver ready made meals and snacks is much appreciated by the often hungry, sleep deprived and hard working new parents.
Knowledge of current “best practice” in baby care. Many recommendations about baby care have changed in the last 40 years and grandparents are often taken aback by these changes. Also, practically everything that is sold for babies from clothing and toys, to cribs and car seats must comply with stringent safety standards. Baby powder and baby oil are no longer considered safe, and smoking around babies or in the homes where they live is considered a health risk for babies. Exclusive breastfeeding is the goal that most mothers strive for, and solid foods are not introduced until six months of age. Babies must always sleep on their backs as this significantly reduces the risk of sudden infant death. Carrying the baby to calm her is the right thing to do, and using a soother (after breastfeeding is well established) is also considered appropriate. And in case you haven’t heard, circumcision is now strongly discouraged by any well informed medical practitioner. Circumcision is no longer covered by the provincial medical system and parents who insist upon circumcising their infant sons for cosmetic reasons must arrange and pay for this privately.
Childcare and babysitting. Some grandparents are thrilled to take on the task of childcare once mom goes back to work. On the other hand this may be the furthest thing from grandma and grandpa’s minds as they plan yet another winter escape to a warmer climate. New parents need to respect the choices that the grandparents have made in this regard.
As parents share their precious little ones with grandparents, the greatest gift that grandparents can give in return is their loving support and recognition of the parents’ efforts to be the best parents they can be. Children enjoy a special relationship with their grandparents and thrive on the fun and variety that grandparents can provide. This special relationship is treasured by parents, grandparents and the grandchildren as they grow.
Susan Miller, R.N. BScN, is a Perinatal Educator and Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor and has worked with prenatal and post-natal families in Greater Victoria for 30 years. She and her husband have just welcomed a second granddaughter born to their son and his wife in Calgary.