Although I haven’t read it, I’m relatively familiar with the 5 Love Languages. However, after you have a baby, I’d argue that, no matter what “language” your love normally speaks, the best gift is help (or, as author Gary Chapman calls it, acts of service).
When I had our first baby, my labor went much longer than expected, and therefore we were gone from home for nearly three full days. Our wonderful friends and my brother- and sister-in-law stepped in on a moment’s notice to care for our dogs, and when we came home, our house was clean and our fridge stocked. I’ll never forget it. In the days after, other friends brought us food and one watched the baby while I took a shower. It was the middle of raging Covid, so we had very few visitors, but the ones we had were priceless.
I don’t want to discourage people from giving gifts, if that’s what’s needed. But in my experience, what was so much more appreciated than a new onesie was simply some help. Sometimes new parents don’t know what will be most helpful, or they may be embarrassed to ask. That’s when you can ask: “How can I be the best help to you?” or, if you know them well enough, simply jump in. Make sure their fridge has food. Put a load of laundry in. Pick up/clean. Take (with permission of course) their newborn/older child(ren)/both for a 10 minute walk so they can shower, make a meal, sleep, or just sit like a puddle of goo on the couch. A moment of “me-time” will go a very long way.
Note to parents/in-laws: don’t act like guests. Don’t expect to be served. Families of newborns have a hard enough time handling everything that they don’t need the stress of trying to anticipate your needs as well. If you come, you must be more than self-sufficient. You may not do everything just as they would. You might not know which cupboard that platter goes in, but empty the dishwasher anyway. They’ll put it back in its rightful place later.
On a related note, I learned a couple of interesting pieces of advice from a friend whose husband passed away recently. She told me that if you want to get something for a grieving person, get consumables. “Things” may simply remind them of the person’s death later on. Also, if you are bringing food, bring it in containers that don’t have to be returned. Returning Tupperware can be one more mental and logistical process to be navigated on top of everything else, and it may just become the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
So the next time that someone in your life has a major transition—a baby, a surgery, a death in the family—don’t just run to the store to see what you can buy for that person. Ask yourself (and them), what do they really need? Is it a thing, is it (pre-cooked) food, is it company/a shoulder to cry on, is it advocacy, is it a helping hand? How can you best show up for them?