Please Don’t Touch My Baby (and 5 Other Etiquette Woes All New Moms Face)
There’s you, your baby and a stranger’s outstretched arm, desperately eager to pinch your newborn’s cheeks with a hand that’s probably unwashed. (Panic! Panic!) You’re not alone if you feel caught between your mother bear instinct and the urge to be polite. That’s why we checked in with Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 19th Edition and co-host of the Awesome Etiquette Podcast, for how to handle every awkward new mom situation.
The Situation: Your friend reaches for your baby without washing her hands.
Lizzie Says: “I’ll preface this by saying that if you freeze in that moment and your friend doesn’t wash her hands, it’s OK. You’re not a bad mom and your baby will be fine. Still, to minimize awkwardness, it’s best to speak up before they reach for the baby versus while they’re holding him or after the fact. When they arrive at your place, say: ‘OK, so we’re doing this with everyone just to help control germs, but would you mind taking off your shoes and washing your hands?’ If you make it your first line of instruction, it’s much easier. Also, if you’re still holding the baby when you ask, it’s more of a soft request than an order.”
The Situation: A *stranger* reaches for your baby without washing their hands.
Lizzie Says: “Eep, this situation is much harder to manage, but you shouldn’t be afraid to be as physically proactive as you can. Instead of crying out, ‘Don’t touch my baby!’ you could switch your hip as they reach or say, ‘Actually, we’re not doing hugs and kisses today. Maybe another day!’ Of course, your first priority here is to be safe and smart and, depending on the moment, that can supersede etiquette and you’ll need to speak up. Still, just try to use your best judgment and keep in mind that, according to the CDC, six feet is the distance for airborne germs. If you’re already in proximity, unless the person’s finger is going into the baby’s mouth, eye or ear, it’s probably fine.”
The Situation: Your aunt/mother-in-law/colleague won’t stop giving unsolicited advice.
Lizzie Says: “I’m a huge fan of something I call the Positive Non-Committal Response (PNR). Say, ‘Oh! Thank you for the thought. That’s pretty interesting. I’m going to have to talk to [INSERT SPOUSE NAME HERE] about that, but I love hearing how other people have handled this.’ It’s all about being grateful without committing to putting their advice into practice or revealing anything about a game plan or what you’re going to do. That said, with unsolicited advice, the problem is usually information overload that can cause you to snap. Remember, those around you dispensing advice aren’t in your head or able to recognize if, inside, you’re feeling overwhelmed. Own your feelings if you need to and say: ‘Thank you for thinking of me. I just don’t have the brain space right now, but I’d love to talk about this another time.’”
The Situation: Your friend wants to come by with their germy toddler.
Lizzie Says: “Remember, you’re in control. You can always say, ‘Today’s not the best day for a multiple kid visit,’ and chalk things up to your own anxiety. Still, it’s all about creating opportunities where that moment of contact can happen. Just like you would with adults, when a toddler arrives, say, ‘Let’s all wash our hands.’ Also, if they push to hold the baby, it’s OK to speak up: ‘I’m just not comfortable having you hold the baby right now, but how about we sit on the couch and hold the baby together?’ You could also give the toddler something to do that engages the baby without touching like reading a story together. And, if you see a stuffy, runny nose that gives you pause, don’t hesitate to request a second hand wash as the visit goes on.”
The Situation: Your baby needs a diaper change in public.
Lizzie Says: “Anyone who changes diapers knows: 90 percent of the time, it’s fine, but a child can poop or pee at any point during the diaper change with explosive potential. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to decide the location of a diaper change based on the potential for mess. If there’s a chance it could ruin something you don’t own, recalculate. You can always ask for the best location or seek out a restroom with a changing table. This has nothing to do with shame, it’s about making a call in the moment to avoid the potential to ruin things owned by others.”
The Situation: Your newborn is napping and you need others to be quiet.
Lizzie Says: “It’s never OK to shush someone you invite into your home. You can’t have a baby who is a light sleeper and simultaneously invite people over for a dinner party with a caveat: ‘Now that you’re here, we need to keep our volumes this low.’ If you want to be a good host and continue to have friends over during this time, it’s all about managing expectations in advance. Say, ‘We can do very short visits while he’s awake,’ or ‘We want to have you over, but we’re going to have to whisper during X time.’ The first six months with a baby are inconsistent, so plan accordingly. By giving visitors a heads-up, you’re empowering them to make a choice to stop by or reschedule for a time that’s more convenient.”