The phone starts to ring, the doorbell goes off like an alarm, and well-meaning friends and family members start trooping through your home. Even though they promise not to stay long and insist that you not go to any trouble, you probably feel compelled to make them comfortable.
The standard advice is to limit visits. Sounds easy, but it's tough to tell your 89-year-old grandmother that she has to wait a few weeks to see her first great-grandchild. Besides, you appreciate all of those presents, flowers, and casseroles people deliver, and it's nice to be congratulated once in a while. Plus, of course, you want to show off your baby.
The key is to make visits as stress-free as possible. We'll show you how.
You've been through an arduous journey -- hey, it's called labor for a reason. As the demands and sleep deprivation increase, it's important to take care of yourself, along with the baby. Promise yourself you'll sleep when baby sleeps, kick out visitors when you're tired, and don't be too proud to ask for help.
When Gina Maggerd, of Neon, Kentucky, had her baby, she told herself, This is me, how I am after giving birth, and I am not going to fret trying to make everyone else feel comfortable.
Taking it easy also applies to the baby. "I made it a rule I would not wake the baby because someone was visiting," says Joyce Anthony, a mom from Erie, Pennsylvania. (Yes, people asked!)
Okay, so they're really not coming to see you; they're coming to see the baby. But even so, you don't want to greet visitors in those pajamas you've been lounging in for four days straight.
Set aside one outfit that is decent looking and comfy. Put it on before people visit, then pull it off after they leave so it stays reasonably clean. Store it in the same easily accessible place so you know where it is at a moment's notice. Or "throw a cardigan sweater over whatever pj's, sweats, or drooled-on clothes you are wearing," suggests Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book -- 4,278 of Mom Central's Tips -- for Moms, from Moms (Free Press).
For quick touch-ups, create a beauty station in the family room or living room. Stash facial wipes, lip gloss, a small mirror, a brush, ponytail holders, and breath mints in a drawer or in a box under the couch. After a touch-up, no one will know that you haven't showered or brushed your teeth. Keep fresh nursing pads there as well so you can change them before or after company visits.
A lack of sleep, coupled with your newfound responsibilities, makes it a challenge to keep your house from looking like a combat zone. Stop stressing about it. "Consider using just one room to entertain," says Maureen Wild, a certified hostess from The Protocol School of Washington, in Washington, D.C., which provides hospitality training for the diplomatic community. "It may be your living room, or family room, or if you live in a warm climate, the patio. Be a little more scrupulous about making this space enticing to guests." However, there's no need to go overboard: "The disorder is part of the charm," she adds.
While your partner may be pitching in like a champ, he won't know what you're stressing about if you don't tell him. It helps to have a plan in place for visits so you each know your roles. You should remain focused on staying comfortable. Before guests arrive, point out things he may have missed in his pre-visit cleanup. If you don't, it's going to irk you, and you may be tempted to clean it yourself. When guests arrive, let him handle food and drinks -- you can deal with presents and small talk. Decide that Dad will be the doorkeeper, responsible for getting people in, keeping them comfortable, and moving them out. If you want time to relax and chat with visitors, he'll be more than happy to step in for diaper duty or soothing your baby.
While you might be happy to introduce your new family member to guests, a long visit will only make you tired. Make it clear how long the social call will be by saying something like, "It would be great if you could stop by at 2. Just so you know, we're usually ready for a nap by 2:30."
Take charge of the visits. Michelle Palter, of Sea Cliff, New York, says, "I screened my calls. I'd call back in batches when I got the time and try to schedule visits in batches, too." Having three visits in one day simplifies the cleaning and straightening process too -- it's the same amount of work for three times as many guests.
Getting oblivious guests to leave can be a challenge, but there are discreet ways to make the point. "My trick was to simply say it was time to nurse and take the baby and leave the room," says Manton, Michigan, mom Ami Weaver. Her husband, Anthony, would put the baby down for a nap, "then mention how I usually took a nap when he did. People took the hint," she adds.
It's okay to be blunt and say, "Sorry for such a short visit, but it's time to feed the baby." Remember, visits are supposed to be fun. And with a little crowd control, you can revel in your newest family member.
Brette McWhorter Sember, a mother of two, is the author of Your Plus-Size Pregnancy (Barricade Books).
Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2006.