As midwives, we view birth as a natural, physiologic process. Despite this normalcy, there is no question that welcoming a new life into the world is a joyous event that deserves to be celebrated.

And, celebration often brings guests. Grandparents are especially excited to meet their new grandbabies. At San Francisco Birth Center, we welcome family members, as long as that is what the birthing mama wants.

When attending the birth, grandparents can support you, the birthing parent, in the following ways.

  • Help with older children.
  • Take pictures to document labor and birth.
  • Act as a back-up coach if your partner needs a break.
  • Make notes of important milestones or words spoken that you might not remember later.
  • Fetch items like snacks, drinks, or anything else you need.

We realize, though, that San Francisco is a really transient city. In fact, most of our clients are not from the Bay Area, so their parents and in-laws don’t live here. Given travel distance and time, our clients often opt out of having their parents here for the birth and instead encourage family members to visit after the new grandbaby’s arrival.

Planning ahead for visits from grandparents

Whether the birthing parent is a first-timer or has older children, her primary postpartum duties should be recovering from childbirth, feeding the baby, and bonding with them. We emphasize that the birthing parent stay in bed for one week and continue with plenty of rest for the second week.

Grandparents can take care of everything else, but how all this plays out depends on the family’s relationships. We want moms to navigate these relationships in a good way. It’s important for grandparents to understand their roles when visiting, whether they’re staying at your house or perhaps nearby at a hotel. Yes, grandparents are guests, but parents of newborns need help. With that in mind, grandparents are also helpers.

Common tasks for grandparents include cooking and cleaning, but not all moms and dads find it easy to accept help with household tasks. That’s why it is so important for you as the birthing parent to communicate with your parents and in-laws, creating boundaries before the baby is born. When systems are in place prior to the birth, Mom gets to rest and grandparents feel like they’re helpful.

What are some of the most helpful tasks grandparents can manage during the postpartum period? Before we get into our suggestions, it’s worth mentioning that grandparents who visit and just want to hold the baby are actually not being terribly helpful. Of course, they can cuddle their grandchildren, but don’t be afraid to restrict baby holding to the times when you’re not doing it, like during showers or naps.

Here are a few possible recommendations and roles for grandparents after your baby’s birth.

Preparing food

This is a bit broader than the traditional cooking task. Depending on what food is in the house, someone may have to go grocery shopping. If you or your partner is up for it, talk through possible meals for the next few days, so the grandparents know what to buy.

Some moms and their partners like to make meals before the birth and freeze them, or perhaps a family member or friend has provided food. Thawing, heating, and serving may seem like simple tasks, but they do take time in the kitchen. Since you are supposed to be in bed, not the kitchen, this is a great way to involve grandparents.

Household cleaning and organizing 

In addition to standard chores like dusting, vacuuming, mopping, washing dishes, and doing laundry, grandparents can help by keeping up with anything that needs organizing.

For example, are there enough diapers and wipes near where you and the baby are sleeping? Have there been visitors who brought gifts, like infant clothing or other baby supplies, that need putting away? Grandparents can easily take up these tasks, so you can just focus on your new baby.

Caring for baby’s siblings

If you have older children, taking care of them is one of the best ways for grandparents to help during the postpartum period. There are the necessary tasks, like preparing meals, giving baths, helping children get dressed, and putting them to bed.

But, there are so many fun activities for grandparents and grandchildren to do together. They can read books, stack blocks, create art, blow bubbles, or go for walks. The list is endless, and young children who are adjusting to a new baby in the house will love one-on-one time with grandparents.

Running errands

 Do your older children need to get to school or extracurricular activities? Does your partner need his medication refill from the pharmacy? Does the dog have a grooming appointment?

If possible, designate someone who can be a runner for all errands. Of course, this allows you to stay in bed, but it also means your partner can stay nearby.

Monitoring guests

As mentioned above, babies tend to beckon visitors. It’s understandable; they are adorable, after all. Some mamas wait a few weeks to welcome guests into their homes, and others are OK with visitors early on.

However, arranging and managing visits can be complicated. Newborns have no schedule and are quite unpredictable when it comes to feeding, peeing, pooping, crying, and sleeping. It’s a great idea to let a grandparent welcome guests at the door and be a time monitor. When you and the baby are ready to be alone again, enlist grandparents to end visits and see guests out of the house.

Supporting you and your partner

From car seats to cloth diapers and strollers to sleeping arrangements, parenting has changed since your parents and in-laws became moms and dads. One of the most crucial conversations you can have with grandparents-to-be is to let them know you will likely be doing many things differently than they did. It’s not a dig at them. It’s simply a result of the passage of time and evidence-based research.

Breastfeeding, in particular, goes much more smoothly when moms have support. If grandparents are open to reading before the baby is born, recommend some articles on KellyMom or suggest classic books like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding or Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding.

 Speaking of parenting, it’s hard work. Beautiful but hard. Combine it with sleep deprivation, and there are bound to be arguments between you and your partner. The best approach for grandparents when this happens is to pretend they didn’t hear it and, if you want to talk later, listen without giving advice.

When you are ready to venture out, please join us at San Francisco Birth Center for New Parents Group 1-2:30 p.m. every Monday! Open to all new parents regardless of where or how you birthed, this group allows you to connect with other new parents. Share what’s going well, what’s been challenging, and hear about the joys and struggles of other new parents. Through sharing laughter and tears, we build each other up and build community.