Do's and don'ts for first-time grandmas

By Hilda Hutcherson, M.D.

As an OB-GYN, I'm often asked how mothers and daughters can celebrate the birth of a baby without clashing over details.

A grandchild's arrival is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your daughter as she learns the ins and outs of parenting. But there's a fine line between being eager to help and overbearing.

Before doling out advice on everything from breast-feeding to baby strollers, take a step back. Remember when you had your first child (and how your mother reacted).

By following these guidelines, you can be the best mother (and grandmother) your daughter could want.

Granny's Law #1: Be supportive from a distance

After the birth of my first child, I was thrilled my mom was there to help me through the new experience.

But by the third day of her visit, I was ready to send her packing (and I did!).

Diapering, feeding, even holding my child: it seemed my mother thought everything I did was wrong and she'd done it better.

How to help: Prevent fights and bad feelings by making yourself available to pitch in, and then follow your daughter's lead.

When you make suggestions, couch them in terms of what worked for you as a new mom, not what your daughter "should" or "shouldn't" do. Got a great tip for getting the baby to sleep? Say something like, "I found this really helpful when you were a child."

Let your daughter decide to follow up, and offer more details if she asks for them.

Granny's Law #2: Offer to babysit

Buying cute baby clothes and expensive toys are obvious ways to spoil your grandchildren. But one of the best things you can do is give the new parents a gift money can't buy: time off.

Your daughter may not ask for babysitting help. Too often when women have a baby, they feel they have to prove to the world that they can handle motherhood alone, so it's up to grandmothers to suggest it.

How to help: Offer to watch your grandchild for a few hours so your daughter can take a trip to the grocery store, visit the hair salon or have a rare date night with her partner.

This "me" time helps her feel good about herself, which in turn strengthens her relationship with her partner and baby.

When babysitting your grandchild, follow your daughter's preferred child-rearing techniques, rather than providing the care you think is best.

Granny's Law #3: Learn the signs of postpartum depression

As a mom yourself, you know how stressful motherhood can be.

Rapidly decreasing post-baby hormones may make your daughter weepy, so a joyful event could leave her teary-eyed instead.

Fortunately, these feelings typically resolve themselves within a few weeks of giving birth. If they last longer, she may have postpartum depression (PPD). This manifests as feelings of sadness, doubt, guilt or helplessness that get worse over time. If these symptoms interfere with normal functioning, she might want to check with her doctor.

Unfortunately, many new mothers think they're the only women who feel this way, so they keep the feelings to themselves. But they're not alone: Adjusting to parenthood is tough for guys too.

Although there's not much research on the subject, PPD may affect 25%-50% of new fathers, particularly stay-at-home dads and those whose partners are also experiencing it.

For both women and men, counseling, support groups and medication can address PPD.

How to help: Let your daughter know she can come to you with concerns. But realize you may need to broach the topic first.

You can do that by gently acknowledging her emotions, saying, "It's the hormones. Really! Great moms have these feelings."

And if you struggled with post-baby blues, share your story with her.

Granny's Law #4: Know your boundaries

Depending on your relationship with your daughter, she may come to you with concerns about her marriage or sex life.

Problems like these are common after having a child. It can put a strain on even the strongest of relationships, as issues such as stress, sleeplessness and jealousy of the other parent's bond with the baby creep in.

This strain can extend to the bedroom: According to a survey by online magazine BabyTalk, just 24% of parents say they're satisfied with their post-baby sex lives, compared with 66% who were happy before they had children. It's wonderful if your daughter feels close enough to ask you for advice about personal problems. But it's also important to respect her boundaries.

How to help: If your daughter seeks input on relationship issues, provide a sympathetic ear and gentle, nonjudgmental insights based on your own experience, without going overboard.

You can say, "It sounds like you're having a tough time." Or, "All relationships go through changes. You and your partner have the foundation and love to get through this and be stronger."

Many new moms get so wrapped up in caring for the baby, they lose sight of their relationship with their spouse.

Encourage your daughter to be a little selfish about her relationship. Remind her that, more than anything, a content child needs happy parents who are loving and connected. You can also point your daughter toward a qualified therapist and other unbiased sources (see Granny's Law #6 below for ideas).

But remember, it's never a good idea to offer unsolicited advice or point out problems in her relationship.

Law #5: Be patient about additional children

While some couples get pregnant on their first attempt, others grapple with fertility issues. When conception doesn't happen as quickly as they'd like, things can get stressful fast.

If a couple has been trying to conceive for a year or more, they'll find themselves dealing with even more obstacles to a healthy relationship.

Not only has the pressure to get pregnant skyrocketed, but fertility treatments add a new wrinkle to an already difficult situation. Research suggests that coping with infertility and its treatments can have negative effects on a couple's emotional well-being and create relationship tension.

How to help: Here's what not to say: "Your father barely had to look at me and I got pregnant." Or: "Your sister hasn't had any fertility problems."

Or the dreaded: "When are you going to give me another grandchild?"

Believe it or not, some hopeful grandmothers even purchase items like clothing and toys before their daughter has actually conceived.

But what you might view as a kind gesture can easily be interpreted as additional, unwanted pressure.

Refrain from buying baby goodies until your daughter has announced her pregnancy. Focus on providing emotional support instead.

If you, too, had trouble conceiving, for example, it's fine to share that with your daughter.

Granny's Law #6: Share resources

Knowledge is power, right?

I'm not suggesting you bombard your daughter with books, emails and magazine articles. She may interpret your "helpfulness" as bossiness. But if you occasionally find information that seems useful, pass it on.

How to help: Remember, the birth of a new grandchild is exciting, but it can be fraught with emotion and natural ups and downs of parenthood.

Take this opportunity to get closer to your grandchild by getting closer to your daughter, and supporting her as only a mother can.

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