Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at news-sentinel.com.
Q.: Karen, I recently had a baby and was surprised by some of the people who visited me in the hospital with their children. They stayed way too long and wanted to have their children hold the baby. I was not comfortable with their children holding my newborn and was worn out after they left. Could you address some courtesies about people visiting new mothers and their new babies in the hospital and at home?
A.: These days, mothers are in the hospital such a short time and are often not up to loads of company. I think hospital visitations should be reserved for close family and close friends.
Waiting until the mother and baby get home and have had a chance to settle in a bit would be a better time for other friends and neighbors to visit. But even then, there are some courtesies that should be observed:
•Call to see when would be a good time to visit. Don't show up unannounced, and make sure your visit is brief. Also, don't come empty-handed or expect to be waited on or entertained.
•Make sure you are well before visiting. You wouldn't want to visit if you or anyone in your family was ill. When you do arrive, don't pick up the baby unless you have been invited to do so, and be sure to wash your hands before holding the baby.
•Keep your advice to a minimum. If it has been a long time since you have delivered a baby, you'd be surprised at how things have changed. And if the mother does ask for advice, be careful not to offer too much. That's what the pediatricians are for.
•Be attentive to the siblings. A new brother or sister in the family can be an adjustment for the other siblings. So it's nice to give them some of the attention, too. Consider taking a small gift for the siblings as well as the new baby.
•Be gracious about the baby's name. Naming your children is a very personal decision. And the name parents choose is usually one they love. So to make curt remarks or disapproving facial expressions is an insult to the parents.
•Respect the mother's privacy. If the mother is breast-feeding, be sure to ask if she would like you to leave the room if it is feeding time.
Also, in spite of the fact that women are more relaxed these days with breast-feeding in front of others, it is important to consider whether your visitors are comfortable being present for the feeding.
Always ask if anyone minds if you feed the baby in front of them.
Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll forward it to her.