New baby gifts! Fun to receive, fun to give, almost impossible to get wrong.
The only truly unwelcome baby present I’ve ever gotten was tucked into the bottom of a “welcome, new baby!” basket from my church: it was a pamphlet titled something like, “So, Hear Me Out, Now. There’s This Thing Called NFP That You Might Maybe Want to Try. . . “. And yes, this was after I had literally written the book on NFP.
I really can’t complain, though. I’m horrible about giving baby gifts, myself. I almost always just bring a fuzzy wuzzy outfit or an adorable bonnet, because it’s fun to shop for those things. But I’ve been on the receiving end of dozens of much more thoughtful, memorable gifts over the years. Here are some of my favorite ideas, which new moms seem to universally appreciate:
1.The tried and true meal. I never manage to prepare freezer meals ahead of time, and I always think, “Oh, we can get by with chicken nuggets and pasta for a while.” But nothing beats having the whole thing taken care of by someone else — whether it’s something elaborate and gourmet, or just a bunch of sandwiches ready to eat.
Best practice is to contact the new mom first, find out when the best time would be to drop by, and don’t plan to stay long — or, if you’re friends and know this would work out, offer to come over with groceries and cook a meal at the new mom’s house (and do the dishes afterwards!). Always ask if there are any allergies or preferences in the family.
And be specific.”What would you guys like to eat?” is great; but to a fuzzy-minded postpartum zombie, even better is “Would you rather have Specific Meal X, Y, or Z?” If you are feeling super helpful, include disposable plates and utensils, and don’t put the food in containers that you need back.
A variation: a gift card for take-out delivery. No matter how well a day starts out, things are guaranteed to look pretty bleak by dinner time. It’s a happy mom who knows that all she’ll have to do at 6 PM is open the door, open a pizza box, and call it a day.
2.The gift from the heart: cash (or gift cards). Not every family needs money, of course, but paternity leave is rare and many moms are losing income while they recover. There are always extra expenses when a baby is born, and nothing eases stress and speeds recovery like knowing, “Oh, I can pay for that.”
Also welcome are gift cards for Amazon or other stores where the family can pick out what they really need, whether it’s a frilly newborn dress, diapers and wipes, toilet paper and dog food, or a treat for the rest of the family when everyone’s stressed out. A friend once gave me thirty dollars, and I still remember how fabulous it felt to go out and splurge on a de-frumping postpartum haircut.
3.The favor that lightens the load. At our school, there is a monthly lottery for “Rock Star Parking” right next to the door. I will never, ever win this, because you get entered by being on time all month. But my punctual friend Angy did win, and she donated the spot to me (as did another friend, Patrick, last time I had a baby). It may not sound like much, but when it’s icy and muddy and I’m lugging a baby in her seat and dragging an unwilling toddler in snow boots and an Elsa dress, a good parking spot makes my life significantly easier five times a week. Score!
Other possibilities in this category: an offer to pick up and drop off other kids at school, or an offer to do the weekly shopping — or maybe an offer to be a shopping companion, on those first difficult trips out with a baby. Think back to when you had a new baby in the house. What did you really struggle with? Is there any way you can lighten that load for a new mom and dad?
4. Treats for other young kids. The non-newborn kids can feel a little lost and overlooked in the first weeks. How nice for them (and for an over-extended mom) to find a few little (non-messy!!!) activities to keep them busy. Sidewalk chalk, new crayons, coloring books, picture books, small stuffed animals or dolls, or a DVD (something you know the mom approves of) can cheer up siblings and give mom a needed respite.
5. Treats for mom (or dad). No matter how happy we are to welcome a new baby (and not be insanely pregnant anymore), it’s a bit of a shock to suddenly stop being the pampered patient, and suddenly start being the round-the-clock caretaker. Most moms appreciate a thoughtful little token present to make them feel pretty or cared-for. A bottle of wine or a box of tea, some fancy chocolates, or something pretty for her hair or skin — or maybe a gift certificate for a manicure or massage — is a nice gesture that says, “You’re more than a diaper-changing machine.”
Something nice for the new dad would probably be welcome, too. They’re often nearly as worn out as their wives, but nobody’s fussing over them.
6. Sincere, specific offers for cleaning, babysitting, or other practical help. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do!” is a pleasant thing to hear, but a thousand times better is, “I would like to donate my teenagers for a couple of hours, if you need help with laundry or cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen, or if you’d like me to take your other kids to the library so you can nap. We are available on the following dates, so let me know if you’re interested.” Or even, “I would love to offer you a couple of weeks of housecleaning service. Would that be helpful to you, or would that be weird?” (Some families are too private for this kind of gift.) Lawn care, snow shoveling, or some credit with a diaper service might also be welcome.
7.Handmade, personalized, or heirloom items (with no strings attached). Hands down, handmade gifts are my favorite in the long run, and older kids love knowing that someone made them just for them, back when they were just a baby. A few that stand out: two blankets made by my sister (one crocheted with intertwined trees and a lovely shell pattern, cherished by the now three-year-old, and one quilted with upcycled denim and flannel, complete with pockets that delighted my son when he got older), and a life-changing co-sleeper built by my brother-in-law and sweetly painted with dancing dandelions. We also love the patron saint icons and medals that various godparents have sent.
Just remember, even if you spent a lot of time and thought on a gift, the new parents are not obligated to display it on their wall or dress the baby in it at Easter time. A gift is a gift, so give it with love and then let it go!
8.Photography session. If you are good with a camera, a newborn or family photography session could make a lovely gift. Just be clear that it’s just an offer, and you won’t be offended if the new mom isn’t up to getting everyone brushed and dressed right away.
9.Used or new baby clothes or equipment IF the mom confirms she really needs and wants them. Mothers of big families may have more baby stuff than they know what to do with, so another bag to sort through may or may not be helpful. On the other hand, mothers of big families have often completely lost track of their stash, or rashly given it all away, so don’t assume that she already has what she needs! The key is to ask. And be clear whether you’re offering a loan or a gift, and if you’d like any unwanted items back, or if she should just dispose of them however she likes.
Baby equipment I’ve found most useful, besides a carseat and stroller: a Boppy pillow,useful for nursing, for propping up a baby’s chest, and for supporting a wobbly baby who is learning to sit; a Bumbo floor seat is a clever, portable, washable seat that we’ve found to be very handy. An extra-large and soft receiving blanket is also very useful for swaddling, as a sun cover, or for some privacy while nursing.
10.Prayer and words of encouragement. A Mass card or enrollment makes a nice keepsake, but Catholic moms also appreciate prayers of any kind. “We’ll offer Mass for you this week” or “We’ll remember you in our family rosary” is a gift that anyone can offer. If you’re not a pray-er, words of encouragement or admiration can also make a huge difference in those first exhausting, sometimes isolating weeks.
11.Gift certificate for a restaurant or hotel — with no expiration date. Some couples are dying to get away, but some would rather hunker down at home until baby’s much older; but most parents like to know they at least have the option to do some non-infant-related activity together at some point.
12.And you don’t have to wait for the baby to arrive. For some women, the last few weeks or months of pregnancy are physically and emotionally harder than the postpartum time, so any of the ideas above would probably be gratefully welcomed by an exhausted preggo who is starting to feel like her baby will never, ever come.
What’s missing from this list? What’s the best baby gift you’ve ever gotten?