As you get older, it’s normal for your friends to start having babies. And, if you don’t have them yourself, it’s understandable that you’d have no freaking clue what to do. Having a baby isn’t just a huge milestone for your friend—it means something for your friendship, too. Suddenly, someone who was once available to you 24/7 is going to be way less able to answer late-night texts, grab a glass of wine at happy hour, and all of the stuff you usually do together.
While your friendship may change a little, this change is life-altering (literally) for your friend and she needs all of the support she can get from you. “Friendships can provide a sanctuary from the external stressors and constant demand on the body and soul of a new mother,” says Karen Kleiman, L.C.S.W., director of the Postpartum Stress Center, and author of The Art of Holding in Therapy: An Essential Intervention for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. “She may need you more now than ever.”
Of course, knowing that you want to be supportive and actually doing it are two different things, so keep these tips in mind.
Offer to Help in Concrete Ways
Many women will turn down an offer of help if it’s general, like, “Please let me know how I can help!” That’s why Catherine Birndorf, M.D., founder of the Motherhood Center in New York City and co-author of an upcoming book on the emotions of pregnancy and postpartum, recommends trying to feel your friend out and making direct suggestions. For example, if you notice that the laundry is piling up at her place. say something like, “It would make me feel like I’m being helpful if I fold your laundry while we chat. Is that OK?” or “I’d love to bring you lunch tomorrow. What would you like?”
Stay in Touch
Sure, she may not be able to answer your texts as quickly as she once did, but checking in and letting her know that your friendship is still important to you is crucial, says Jessica Zucker, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist specializing in women’s health.
Ask if You Can Hold the Baby
Keep in mind that your friend now spends the vast majority of her time holding her baby, so jumping in can give her a break to rest, have a cup or coffee, or pee alone, Kleiman says—all of which might seem basic to you, but are a luxury when you have a newborn.
Keep Conversations Light if You Can
Sure, she’ll want to know if you just went through a breakup or you’re struggling at work, but try to save those conversations for times when she wasn’t up all night with a screaming baby—and when you do bring it up, know when to change the subject. “You should not use up her emotional energy,” Birndorf says.
Don’t Assume You Know How She’s Feeling
Women are told that being a new mom should be the happiest time in their life, but the reality can be different for some. “She may or may not be falling in love with the role of motherhood, so it’s wise to tenderly inquire rather than guess,” Zucker says. Try to ask questions like, “How are you doing?” and “How’s it feeling so far?” instead of prompts like, “Isn’t it the best thing in the world?”
Keep Up the Support
“The transition to motherhood continues on—it’s not finite, so be sure to continue checking in and supporting your friend through it all,” Zucker says. So, send her card a month after the baby’s birth telling her how great she seems to be handling new motherhood or spend a Saturday evening on her couch talking instead of going out. It’ll mean a lot more than you realize.