Moms are the strongest among us, yet the months and even years following their baby’s delivery can be fraught with uncertainty and emotion. New moms in particular are fragile and vulnerable, which is why (unless they volunteer the information on their own), you shouldn’t presume that they’re automatically okay with invasive and meddlesome interruptions into their postpartum life. Here are 20 common but rude questions we should stop asking first time moms.
1. Is Your Baby Sleeping Through the Night?
Ask a sleep-deprived parent this, and they might just punch you in the face. No jury would convict. Not only is it unrealistic to expect your six-week old baby to sleep through the night, it’s discouraging for new parents to hear the inevitable “Well, just try XYZ! My newborn slept through the night!” that follows this question. Sleep training a newborn should be an oxymoron. Babies need consistent nourishment the most in their early days, even if they need it at 3 a.m.
2. Are You Breastfeeding?
It feels like there are only extremes when it comes to conversations on breastfeeding – either you’re very much for or against it, especially the older the child happens to be. Heaven forbid moms turn to formula if they have issues with breastfeeding, or breastfeed their child well after the suggested year-long period. This query is a double-edged sword for new moms. Either you’re fortunate enough when many aren't able to breastfeed, or you’re a failure as a mom for not being able to. A fed baby, no matter how they’re fed, is a happy baby, and let’s leave it at that.
3. Is He/She a “Good” Baby?
First of all, what does it even mean to have a good baby? One that never cries, never has gas, sleeps through the night, and in general allows parents to live their lives just as they did before they had a kid? The first few weeks and even months with a newborn, as any first time mom will tell you, are survival mode. You’re not sure what day or what time it is, let alone if your baby meets someone else’s arbitrary criteria. Moms at this stage should be concerned with feeding and wet diapers, not with training a baby to somehow have the mature capabilities of a 4-year-old.
4. Did You Poop During Labor?
If you don’t know why this is deeply inappropriate, I just can’t help you.
5. When Are You Going To Have Another One?
Pump the brakes, Aunt Karen. We just got home from the hospital like 10 minutes ago.
I’m one of the most vocal proponents of big families you’ll ever meet, but even this is a bit much. My first week home with my newborn, I couldn’t fathom how parents do the newborn stage more than once. Now that my child’s a bit older, I’ve started to come around, but as any new parent will tell you, a sibling is the furthest thing from their mind when they’re covered in throw up and have a screaming, inconsolable little on them in the middle of the night. That doesn’t automatically mean new parents are “one and done” as they say. They just need time, and they deserve it.
6. Are You Bed Sharing?
Any needlessly controversial topic, like breastfeeding or bed sharing, has its fair share of supporters and opponents. Yes, bed sharing is pretty taboo in the medical community and in most families writ large, but in many other countries and cultures, it’s the standard for how infants transition from womb to world to toddlerhood. Bed sharing parents don’t need SIDS statistics thrown at them. They’re going to parent however they see fit, and sometimes that means making choices that are unpopular with others.
7. Have You Lost the Baby Weight Yet?
You’re not blind. You can see if a mom still has her baby weight or if she’s lost some, but “bouncing back” after birth is a concept we should do away with altogether. Not only is exercise not recommended for new moms until at least a couple months postpartum, she just carried a human inside her for nine months, and exacerbating what’s likely a huge insecurity won’t motivate her.
8. How Much Did You Tear?
This falls into the same category as the poop question. A new mom’s perineum isn’t your business, unless you’re her doctor or midwife. Instead, try “How can I help you rest? Can I hold the baby while you take a bubble bath?”
9. Are You Drinking?
There are a lot of misconceptions about drinking postpartum, especially if the mom is breastfeeding. In reality, one alcoholic drink for a breastfeeding mom won’t harm her baby, particularly if she’s waited an hour or more in between drinking and nursing. That isn’t your place to remind her though (if she’s a new mom, she’s likely researched it obsessively). And besides, beer is said to help milk supply, so why begrudge a hardworking mom a drink?
10. Have You Had Sex Yet?
A couple’s sex life is very rarely anyone else’s business besides their own. Having been on the receiving end of someone telling me their postpartum sex was similar to losing their virginity for the second time, it’s just never a good idea to bring up in conversation. Ever.
11. Are You Going Back to Work?
Unless you’re privy to a couple’s household finances, expenses, salaries, and income, you’re not really included in their decision-making. Many moms are fortunate to stay home with their kids, but a lot aren’t. As a working mom myself, I’ve heard everything from “You just don’t love your child enough” to “If your husband really loved you, he’d let you quit your job.” No matter how strong your feelings are on the subject (and in the realm of the internet, mom-shaming is extremely prevalent no matter who you are or what you do), it’s probably nothing a new mom hasn’t heard before, but that doesn’t mean she needs to hear it.
12. Are You Putting Him/Her in Daycare?
When I worked at a daycare during high school, I always saw one mom in particular struggle to leave after dropping off her kiddos. Of course, I had my own thoughts about this – like why she was leaving them in the first place if it was so hard for her? – but I later learned her spouse had died in a car accident and she was a single mom with one income.
New moms, as anyone will tell you, are going through it. Around every corner, someone has an opinion or thought on their parenting, with very little offer of help or useful, kind advice. Working moms and outsourcing childcare are controversial, but if we really wanted to help, we’d lift each other up instead of tearing one another down. That may be hackneyed, but any woman in the know will tell you the majority of mom-shaming comes from other moms.
13. Are You Still Wearing Maternity Clothes?
The correct response to this is “So what if I am?” A new mom has had her bump for months now, so why should we expect her to leave the hospital without it? A new mom doesn’t have to fit into her pre-pregnancy leggings nor should we expect her to. Again, the idea of “bouncing back” after pregnancy seems to have been largely perpetuated by outsiders who deal with their own insecurities by foisting them on others. A new mom can wear whatever she wants.
14. Did You Circumcise?
Circumcision should be one of those conversation topics that’s completely off the table. Again, every parent has their reasons for their choices, and unless you’re married to the parent in question, it’s not really up to you to understand or validate their decisions.
15. Are You on Antidepressants?
It’s cliché and banal to say there’s a stigma around discussing mental health, but it’s questions like these that legitimize that belief. A postpartum mom doesn’t need to hear about how you cured your anxiety and depression. Every woman and mom is different, and a better way to ask about their mental health is to ask what you can do as a friend or loved one to be most helpful to them and their baby.
16. Are You Spoiling Your Baby?
It’s impossible to spoil a baby, if by spoil you mean hold them, rock them, snuggle them, feed them, or comfort them. You don’t have to be an expert in behavioral science or child development to know that a newborn deserves all of the skin-to-skin contact and love it can get from its parents. It’s not spoiling them to cuddle all day or want to be close to them constantly.
17. What Do You Do during the Day?
Stay-at-home moms can’t hear you. They’re too busy cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, cooking, running after kids or animals, cleaning up their messes, and trying not to lose their minds while they do it. Just like being a working mom is a double-edged sword, being a stay-at-home mom always elicits its own form of judgment, like “Must be nice!” or “Don’t you wish you had a job sometimes?” Sigh. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
18. Was He/She Planned?
Because I got pregnant three months after getting married, acquaintances, coworkers, and even close friends automatically assumed my baby was an “accident.” Believe it or not, many women do choose to start their families soon after marriage, and furthermore, they know their cycle well enough to know how to optimize their fertility, baby or not. If you wouldn’t say this to a mom about their teenager, why would you say it to a fragile new mom with a newborn who’s just learning the ropes of parenthood?
19. Are You Going To Try for a Boy/Girl Next?
Gender disappointment may be a thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ask a new mom if she’ll try for another gender with her next baby. Outside of a lab (and huge ethical concerns) the gender of our babies isn’t something we can control, nor should we want to. It’s natural to want a boy or a girl after having the other first, but asking this also implies that the first baby is imperfect in some way, when their mom knows the opposite to be true.
20. Can’t You Just Get a Babysitter?
As a first time mom myself, one of the hardest parts of my postpartum world has been relinquishing control to others, and not only that, but handing my child over to others, even when it’s for a much-needed nap or a solo grocery run. It’s almost like there’s a mental block when it comes to babysitters. I know I could use one, but I’m not fully convinced I have it in me to trust someone else with my baby, especially with crazy stories you read in the news.
I know many new moms feel this way, whether it’s a lack of trust in others or a lack of resources in their immediate area. If you’re upset that your new mom friend can’t make the weekly get together or happy hour, don’t assume to know what she’s feeling. Babysitters may be out there, but it takes some longer than others to feel comfortable with someone in their house who’s caring for their little one.
If you have a new mom in your life, don’t pepper them with questions or criticisms. Give them hugs, food, encouragement, and optimism. It’s tough out there.
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