Reasons Why Parents May Prevent Grandparents From Seeing a Newborn

Proud grandmother watches daughter holding newborn grandson
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Some expectant parents say that they aren't taking hospital visitors. Others say that the grandparents won't be allowed to visit their newborn grandchild for the first few weeks or even months. Many grandparents are confused and hurt by these decisions. Why would parents do this to grandparents?

Grandparents must understand that these decisions aren't something that parents are doing to the grandparents. It's something that they are doing for the newborn and for themselves. They are creating a protected period for forming a family unit.

Grandparents may not understand such decisions, but they should at least grant that the parents are acting out of the best of motives. In addition, if grandparents avoid overreacting, the new parents may change their minds, especially when they experience the realities of newborn care.

Grandparents and Hospital Visits

When parents ban grandparents from visiting, usually it is to allow the new family to bond without any complicating factors. Here are some other reasons why parents may request that grandparents not visit the hospital:

  • The mother may be recovering from birth and need lots of rest.
  • The mother may not want visitors when she is not looking or feeling her best, as may be the case after childbirth.
  • The mother may desire privacy as she tries to establish breastfeeding.
  • The parents may not want an audience as they get used to handling and changing their newborn.
  • The parents may be concerned about visitors bringing germs.

It's important to remember that new mothers are usually sent home after 48 hours. As recently as the 1970s, postpartum hospital stays averaged four days. In the 1950s, stays of one week to 10 days were standard. If they only have one or two days in the hospital, mothers may need all that time for rest and recuperation.

Grandparents and Home Visits

Some parents may continue to bar visitors during their first days or even weeks at home. Along with continuing concern about exposure to germs, these factors may also enter into their decision:

  • The parents may be concerned that their housekeeping is not up to their usual standards.
  • The parents don't want the burden of having to offer food and drinks or otherwise entertain their guests.
  • Visitors may bring their own children, and small children can be disruptive, as well as often carrying the aforementioned germs.

How Changing Times Play a Role

Most grandparents grew up in a time when it was accepted that grandmothers would be on the premises to help new mothers. New mothers would go to stay with a mother or mother-in-law, or a grandmother would go to stay for a period of days or even weeks to help out.

Today's mothers live in a fairly different world. For one thing, their partners are more likely to help out. Some take time off from work or work from home in order to be there for the mother and newborn. The lucky ones even get paid parental leave. 

Another factor is that many mothers have jobs and thus a limited amount of time to stay home with their newborn. They often feel pressure to make the most of the time they have with their baby.

Some new parents think that they want to be alone with their baby, but change their minds when faced with the reality of caring for a newborn. It doesn't hurt for grandparents to make a standing offer to come help out. Sometimes parents who restricted visitors with a first child are completely fine with visitors for subsequent births, especially since there is an older sibling to be cared for. 

Additional Sources of Tension

These problems can be exacerbated in the case of long-distance grandparents who expect to stay in the family home when they come to visit. Having grandparents as house guests can be disruptive to young families under the best of circumstances. When the new parents are sleep-deprived and otherwise not at their best, the stage may be set for conflict.

If you are a visiting grandparent, offer to stay in a hotel when you visit. At a minimum, let the new parents make decisions about the length and timing of your visit.

Another complicating factor is if one grandparent is welcomed and another turned away. Sometimes maternal grandparents have more access to a new baby than paternal grandparents, but it can be just the opposite. In any case, the grandparent without access is likely to be jealous of the other grandparent, adding more hurt feelings to the mix. 

Grandparents who do not agree with the decisions made by the new parents should remember that one of the main jobs of grandparents is respecting boundaries. As eager as grandparents may be to get acquainted with their newborn grandchild, they should understand that it is equally important to get off on the right foot with the new parents.

Grandparents who respect new parents' decisions are likely to see their access to grandchildren expanded, while those who do not may find that access continues to be limited.

What to Do When You Visit

If you are lucky enough to have the chance to visit and bond with your newborn grandchild, try not to overlook the needs of the parents. Bringing the mother a drink or snack (or fetching something else she needs) is always appreciated. Good nourishment and hydration are important after birth.

Helping out with housework is important, but it can be tricky. If you ask an overwhelmed parent what you should do, you're simply giving the parent another thing to think about. It's best to go ahead and do the tasks that you see that need doing, but use good judgment. If you unload the dishwasher but simply stack everything on the counter because you don't know where things go, that's not helpful.

Most grandparents will be dying to help with the baby, but again, ​defer to the parents' wishes. Some parents will be more than happy to hand off the baby for a while. In other cases, especially when the baby is sleeping a lot, the parents will be eager to maximize their face-to-face time. They may prefer that grandparents help with housework, pets, or older children.

A Word From Verywell

Above all else, be patient with new parents. Don't be quick to take offense. They are going through a lot of changes. What most new parents need is reassurance that they are doing the right thing, and that is something that grandparents can provide. It doesn't cost a penny, but the payoffs can be enormous.

By Susan Adcox
Susan Adcox is a writer covering grandparenting and author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.