In an era of social media, the arrival of a new baby is one of the few anticipated events that remains resistant to the lure of exchanging a virtual reality for the real one. No matter how many photos of your adorable bundle you post on Instagram, every friend and relative living nearby still wants to experience your baby for themselves.
After all, cradling a newborn does more than merely making us clucky. It touches us to the core. It reminds us that miracles exist.
And under normal circumstances, visitors can be fun. But having a new baby is not normal circumstances and visitors can rapidly change from comforting fun to imposing nuisance.
Take my mother for example. It goes without saying that Instagram or Facebook was not an option for her, and when my older brother was born and visitors came around, she was so worried about influenza, tuberculosis, rubella, in fact germs of any kind, that she refused to let them in.
In this current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic the fear of germs has been heightened. Thankfully, it is exceptionally rare for newborn babies to become seriously ill from the virus, but it is understandable that many new mothers are still worried about their children being exposed to it.
Gold Coast University Hospital senior obstetrician Dr Luke Waldrip says it is important to follow the current Government guidelines of social distancing and limiting the number of people who want to visit.
“Hand washing in warm water for at least 20 seconds, and the use of hand sanitiser, have been shown to reduce rates of transmission of not just the COVID-19 virus but all viruses and bacteria,” he says. “These are simple actions that everyone can take to help keep both themselves and others safe.”
Predating the COVID-19 pandemic, many new mothers have joined the “No Vax, No Visit” movement, which requires visitors to have their whooping cough vaccination up to date, before coming to see their newborn baby.
“I just didn’t want my babies to pick anything up from anyone,” said mother-of-two Julie Goble, 36, who requested her family members get their whooping cough vaccinations up to date during her pregnancy. “I wasn’t super strict about it, but everyone respected our request and no-one came over if they weren’t feeling one-hundred per cent.”
Surfers Health Medical Centre Practice Principal Dr Mark Jeffery recommends whooping cough vaccinations to anyone who will be in close contact with a newborn, but he also believes we shouldn’t overly fear germs. “We need to remember that a child’s immunity is based on exposure to certain antigens, so to deny your children normal socialising is not a good idea,” he says. “On average a child will have up to five viral infections a year. Whether they are at home or anywhere else, they are still likely to pick up infections.”
Midwife and bestselling author of parenting books OH BABY and Parenting Tips: Sleep: How to Help Your Baby Sleep Kathy Fray, says limiting visitors is not only about germs, because rest is a huge priority for a new mother.
“Non-stop visitors can have an enormous negative effect on the establishment of breastfeeding and the mother’s recovery, and can potentially be a risk factor for postnatal depression,” she says. “There is a whole ‘art’ to helping a new mother do what she needs to do, to have the uninterrupted peace to simply sleep and feed her baby – which is all she should be doing in the first week.”
Fray has conducted countless postnatal visits with mothers who are exhausted from well-meaning visitors and says that first-time mothers tend to suffer the most.
“They feel such obligations to be ‘on show’ for all the family,” she says.
Much of this pressure is self-inflicted, though, and you shouldn’t let anxiety about your appearance, or the state of your house, prevent visitors from coming around if that is what you want.
“The people who come to visit you are there to show their support and love for you and your family. Not to look for fault,” says clinical psychologist Dan Martin. “Most people understand that you may have been up multiple times per night with a crying little one. Dust bunnies in the corner of the lounge aren’t the highest priority at this time.”
Fray agrees and suggests that all new mothers-to-be tell their family and friends about their preferred visitor boundaries in advance.
“By the time women are having their third baby, they can get staunchly proactive about putting their and their baby’s own needs first, and they put their foot down to excessive visitors,” says Fray.
Fray also suggests that you tell your friends and family that you plan to shut down from social media, emails and texts as much as possible, so you can really be present with your new baby for those “first precious days and weeks”.
But, like everything, moderation is best. And setting visitor boundaries doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the satisfaction of seeing that amazing picture of your three-week-old daughter gazing up at you with her sleepy blue eyes become the most liked photo on your Instagram account.
Nor does it mean missing out on that invaluable moment when your sister or best friend comes around and their face melts when they see your newborn baby for the very first time.
Now that is something an Instagram like can’t replicate, no matter how hard Mark Zuckerberg tries.
Professor Julie Leask, Public Health expert at the University of Sydney, discusses ways in which parents can protect their children during the global COVID-19 pandemic:
Suvi Mahonen is a Surfers Paradise-based journalist. Her work appears in The Australian, the Australian Quarterly, Mamamia and other health and lifestyle publications. Follow her on Facebook, YouTube and online art-selling platform Redbubble.
Feature photo credit: Fancycrave 1