Maybe I’m too practical. I never thought of myself as such, but as of late I’ve been relegated to the “paper goods” assignment for any baby shower I attend. My friends all seem to know that I prefer to provide the staple items and leave the frilly stuff to them — which they’re only too happy to do.
After picking up my bulk-offering of plates, plastic wear and cups, I take my gift to the growing pile and place it off to the side.
There it sits, like a forgotten pile of something someone forgot to put away before the shower began. No bows. No fancy wrapping.
Each present gets its moment in the spotlight to be “oohed” and “aahed” over before, at last, someone notices the odd leftover present and hesitates. This is when I speak up and say, “No, it’s not misplaced groceries, it’s actually my gift.” Curiosity is piqued and I get a chance to explain.
Statistics show that 1 out of 8 women will experience some kind of postpartum depression. Since I am a therapist specializing in pregnancy and postpartum mood disorders, each baby shower I attend fills me with hope, excitement and a little apprehension as I wonder if the woman opening the frilly, bow-laden gifts will be that “one.”
As a result, my gifts have significantly changed over the years as my education and experience increased in this area. And for me, it’s more satisfying and fun to buy my friends gifts that will truly “shower” them with support during the early, transitional months of a new baby.
Many new mommas don’t truly understand the level of support they will need and how challenging any kind of self-care can be during those first few months. Although I love to see all the cute little clothes, shoes and toys given at a baby shower, I’ve often thought about what my dream shower would look like — from the point of view of a therapist and as a mother of two who has experienced those challenging transitions as well.
Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of gifts I’d like to see at a shower. These gifts help new mothers — whether it’s their first baby or their fifth — to have a healthy postpartum recovery, as well as send the message that self-care is important and has to be made a priority. Wellness of the mother should not be an afterthought that comes after the house is straightened, the dishes done and the laundry folded. Her health is essential to her recovery and the well-being of the baby.
Bulk-sized paper plates, cups and plastic ware: Giving a mother six weeks’ worth of paper goods frees her and her partner from worrying about or spending unnecessary energy on doing the dishes. Not only the time spent doing the dishes, but the mental energy even thinking about having to do the dishes in the first place. Although initially it may be the least exciting gift in the pile, inevitably I get phone calls from my friends sharing their love for their disposables. (Diapers aren’t the only lovely disposables when it comes to parenting.)
Money toward a postpartum doula: Postpartum doulas are often underestimated in their significant postpartum support. Their role is to “mother the mother” and support the family in their transition. Postpartum doulas offer support by preparing healthy and balanced meals, breast-feeding education, holding your child while you shower, taking a night shift so you can get some sleep, helping with laundry, grocery shopping, picking up medications and more. They are there to help you so you can enjoy your baby.
Frozen meals: Having a few — or a freezer full — of ready-to-go meals takes the burden off moms having to shop, prepare and cook once the family and neighbor meals taper off. Nutrition is a key component of healthy postpartum recovery and wellness, and something easily compromised if it’s not easily accessible. Combine disposable bakeware with paper goods and you’ve just fulfilled a huge need and removed the burden of her having to return your dish.
Book: “Life Will Never Be The Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide,” by Ann Dunnewold and Diane Sandford. This book was written by moms — and professionals — for other moms. It gives real, practical advice in a format that is easy to browse through for new moms who don’t have the time to read cover-to-cover. It addresses overcoming obstacles to self-care as well as emotional care.
Nursing/bottle feeding basket: Whether a mom is breast- or bottle-feeding, she will be feeding her baby, on average, 12 times in a 24-hour period. It is a guaranteed sit-down time for a mom where she can replenish her reserves — especially her water and nutrition. Fill her basket or tote with dried fruits and nuts, water bottles, a La Leche league book, important phone numbers and a book of supportive quotes or stories.
Postpartum massage or pedicure: This can be a welcome gift when a mom needs some “me” time and a chance to receive relaxing physical touch. You may also include offering to go with her to hold her baby during the massage if she is nursing or offering childcare so she doesn’t have to try and find a sitter.
The “no thank-you” card: Include in your gift a “no thank-you” message asking her not to send you a thank-you card. This can be an unexpected, yet welcome, part of your gift. There are so many things on a mom’s plate that being able to remove the pressure of a thank-you note can go a long way.
Well-mom checklist: The well-mom checklist created by Sherri Duson is a set of questions that gives a mom a chance to check in with herself. Moms can get so involved with caring for their little one, they may not realize the areas of their own care they are neglecting. It also sends the message that motherhood is hard work, and that how she is doing and feeling matters.
Have I eaten enough nutritious food today?
Have I slept at least five hours, or taken a nap?
Have I bathed or showered today?
Have I exercised at least 10 minutes today?
Have I had at least 10 minutes of quiet time for reflection and renewal today?
Have I let myself laugh today?
Have I let others help me today?
Have I kissed my baby and told him/her “I love you” today?
Have I talked to at least one adult today about how I’m doing (and not just about the baby)?
Have I forgiven myself for mistakes today?
Baby carrier: Comfortable, supportive baby carriers are a great way for the new mom or dad to attach and bond with the baby while having at least one hand free to do other things. Babies enjoy the closeness and tend to be less fussy when swaddled close to a parent’s body.
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Slipping in a health-promoting gift for a mom at a baby shower may be like sneaking in vegetables for a toddler. They don’t necessarily know that they need them or even like them, but as one more experienced, you’re taking the initiative to improve their health, and one day they’ll thank you.
Kristin B. Hodson is a licensed clinical social worker and founder of The Healing Group in Salt Lake City. In June 2012, she launched the Hey Mom! campaign around postpartum depression. For more information, visit www.thehealinggroup.com/hey-mom.