Thursday, May 31, 2012

Things NOT to say to a new mother

Fussy baby Magnolia -- can you hear her?
While I was pregnant, I blogged frequently about how many people feel the need to force their opinions on you about pregnancy, health and babies; and I had hoped it would go away once the baby was here, but how wrong I was!  No matter what, people feel the need to open their mouths and comment on everything about baby.  I have had a few encounters that left me feeling very upset and sad.  But first, I should mention that Magnolia was a colicky baby, the definition of colic means that a baby cries more than 3 times per week for more than 3 hours at a time, for more than 3 weeks.  Check, check, check.  Yup, colic!   Magnolia would cry for HOURS on end, no matter what we did for her, nurse, rock, walk, drive, stroller, carrier, soothe, etc etc etc...nothing worked!  She just kept crying.  So as a frustrated mama, I would mention this to people; who would respond with, "whats wrong with your baby?"  Which, of course, never makes any mother feel good.  You begin to think, what IS wrong with my baby?  Why is she so fussy?  I began to look for things that were wrong, does her stomach hurt, is she scared; we spent a LOT of money on alternative therapies for her to make her stop crying, cranio-sacral therapy, naturopathic medicine, numerous homeopathic remedies, trips and phone calls to the doctor, to the midwives, to my mom, my husband, in tears...why won't she stop crying?  But she did, finally.  At 5 months, she chilled out and went from being the biggest fusser to being only mildly fussy.  What was wrong with her?  Nothing.  

Now that her colic stage is over she has turned to being very attached to mama, and very concerned about the world and people around her.  When people come up to us in the store, she stares intently at them with a puzzled look on her face (its her 'thinking face'), but I often hear things like; "why is she so serious" and "she's TOO serious" and "why won't she smile?"  I don't have a good response for this yet because I don't know why she is that way, she just's just her.  Magnolia is not the type to smile happily at strangers and make eyes at every person in the grocery store, its just not her temperament.  

I know other new mama's experience this as well, one friend was so tired of people asking her how the baby was sleeping and that she just answers 'great' just to avoid the discussion with others.  Another mama was frustrated recently when someone told her that her son was too pretty to be a boy; and another mama mentioned people would tell her that her baby was too fat (example: you better stop feeding that one, or they will be huge when they get older). Its shocking to me that people think they can say these things without any concern that these words can be hurtful to a new mother.  It doesn't make anyone feel good to hear that their child is 'too' anything.  And chances are that the mother is already concerned that her child is 'too serious' or chubby or whatever and pointing it out does not help anything.  Also, imagine if you point something out and the child does have a problem?  
So the next time you see a child in public, whether they are fussing, smiling, or coo-ing; think before you speak: and if you must say something; tell the mother that her child is beautiful or handsome, or thoughtful and smart or tell the mother that SHE looks great!
Regardless, I know that everyone means well for the most part, but even the best intentions can be hurtful if you don't know the back story of the child.   Please refrain from asking what is wrong with the child, or giving advise to the mother it really doesn't help or make anyone feel better, and you just might say something hurtful even when it wasn't your intention at all.  I am certainly not above making this mistake or saying something that was 'wrong' to a mother, and I know that and feel terrible about it.

Please leave a comment, what do you think about this topic, are you a mother who has experienced this?  Have you had an encounter that left you feeling upset, or did someone say something wonderful to you or your baby that made you feel great?  Please share!  Most recently someone told me that I was awesome for hiking with Magnolia, it made my day!
Concerned look


  1. I had to laugh at the comment about one mother being told her son was too pretty to be a boy! I used to get that all the time with Devin! Thanks for sharing your insight, love and strength!! <3 u!!!

  2. uggghhhh...the colic!!! i feel for you mama! my son was horribly colicky for the first few months of his life and a few times i felt like just throwing him out the window lol! it makes it so much harder for the rude comments to just roll off with the lack of sleep, the frustration etc...some people always feel the need to make comments and honestly i believe they probably don't think they are being rude. also i think it's part perception. i would not have been offended at the 'your son is too pretty to be a boy' comment, but obviously your friend was and that's ok too. years from now or maybe even a few months those comments won't mean squat...'walk a mile' is what i always think when people feel the need to express their opinion that doesn't sit well with me and i can walk away knowing i'm doing my best.

  3. Kari and Jill, thanks for posting! I totally agree Kari, when you are sleep deprived and your child won't stop crying; then hearing 'whats wrong with that baby' really doesn't help the situation. Magnolia blew the colicky definition away, she cried for hours on end, nearly EVERYDAY, for 5 MONTHS! It was miserable!!! And so when people said 'whats wrong with her, why won't she smile at me' made the situation even worse. Some people didn't even want to hold her because she was so feisty. It was hard, a mother is so fiercely protective their child and hearing something that can be construed as bad or negative, especially if you are sensitive toward that in the first place is just really hard to not take personally or offensive.
    I completely agree that most people are not trying to say something hurtful at all, and they would feel bad knowing they hurt someone's feelings with a comment that was meant to be benign. People do take things too personally, but its hard to let it roll off your back when its about your child. It would be easier if someone said something negative to ME, but when its about Magnolia, its hard to let it slide.

  4. That "serious look" appears similar to the look that my Reuben gives when he's goin to the bathroom, lol, (which they are doing like ALL the time) ~ we love that look around here ~ especially the eye brow wrinkling up!! We say, "oh, look at those eyebrows", and get all excited!