When a friend or family member has a baby, the usual response is to buy a gift for the new baby — a rattle, blanket or even an outfit. But some women argue that the gifts should actually be for the woman who did the hard work of giving birth to a newborn.
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Meghan Walbert, a freelance writer and mom to an 8-year-old boy, had that realization recently when her sister-in-law was giving birth to her first child.
“I’m just thinking the baby is just this one little person who’s not going to know what’s going on,” Walbert said. “In the meantime, my sister-in-law is about to have a C-section and her life is about to change.”
When Walbert’s nephew was born, she gave her sister-in-law gifts she hoped would provide her comfort in her new life as a mom.
“Knowing she loves coffee, I got her a new coffee mug and new coffee and fuzzy slipper socks,” said Walbert, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “My focus was to really have it be about her and not be about, ‘Now you’re a mom and you need these mom things.’”
Kate Westervelt, of Boston, agrees on focusing on the new mom, but she likes to give gifts that focus specifically on the mom's healing from childbirth.
Westervelt, 32, founded Mombox, which offers postpartum-care giftboxes for new moms, after going through her own postpartum experience with her son, Noah, who is now 2 years old.
"I didn’t know as a first-time mom the things I would need for my own self-care," she said. "We get sucked into the conversation about car seats and strollers and pregnancy glow, but we don’t have an honest conversation about what our bodies will need."
Westervelt's revelation came when she and her husband were on their way home from the hospital, and they had to stop at Target to buy recovery products such as pads, creams and nursing aids.
"I had a giant ice pack in my underwear and I hadn’t slept in 72 hours," Westervelt said. "I had to waddle between the pharmacy and baby sections because there is no postpartum section in stores."
Mombox offers gift boxes for vaginal births and C-sections with products like pain-relief tea, belly oil and overnight pads, all of which are made by female-owned companies and tested by other moms.
"You’re sort of drowning in baby supplies, and you don’t need half of them, and then you’re desperate for supplies that you need but you’re so overwhelmed with caring for a new life that you don’t raise your hand to say, 'I need help,'" Westervelt said. "We get groceries and everything delivered to home so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be delivering this to moms."
Walbert said the main reason she believes in giving gifts to new moms instead of newborns is because receiving a gift can help make a new mom "feel seen."
"When you’re pregnant, there’s a lot of attention bestowed on you, and once the baby comes, a lot of times, all of that attention naturally transfers to the baby," she said. "You forget to ask the mom, 'How are you feeling?'"
A gift to a new mom is also an acknowledgement of the physical and emotional experience she just went through, Walbert noted.
"Giving birth is a physical experience, emotional experience and your life has changed at the same time you physically feel very run down, you’re exhausted," she said. "It's important to show each other that, 'Hey you had a baby and he’s cute and I see you too, and the best thing you can do is take care of you to be a good mom.'"
Walbert wrote an article titled, "Send a New Mom Gifts for Her, Not the Baby," in which she details what she calls the "New Mom Care Package formula," based on ideas from other moms.
After posting the article, Walbert said she heard from a relative who still remembered the nightgown a friend had gifted her after she gave birth to her son 30 years ago.
"That little gesture [of a gift], when everything else is sort of about the baby, can make [a mother] feel special and important," Walbert said. "People really remember it."
Here are the five items that comprise Walbert's New Mom Care Package formula. She recommends including one or two of each of the items in a gift box as the perfect gift for a new mom.
1. Something to keep her hydrated, like a large water bottle or a set of herbal teas.
2. Something to keep her warm, like a robe, scarf, sweater or slipper socks.
3. Something to keep her pampered, like a gift certificate for a massage or her favorite lip balm or scented lotions.
4. Something to treasure, like a ring with the baby’s birthstone, or a bracelet or necklace engraved with the baby’s name, first initial or birth date.
5. A great card that congratulates the new mom on "bringing that baby into existence and still managing to function at a basic human level," as well as reminding her that "to be a good parent, you have to remember to take care of yourself. Your oxygen mask goes on first."