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Hospital Visitor Etiquette, Visitor Perspective Edition

Hospital Visitor Etiquette, Visitor Perspective Edition

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I know you’ve covered this topic before, especially in response to expectant moms looking for advice about visitors during labor and delivery. I’m writing from the perspective of the visitor, and would really value your opinion.

I’ll try to keep it brief: My brother’s wife will be delivering their first child any day now, and I’m wondering what the proper etiquette is for visiting the hospital in any situation when a loved one is in labor. A bit of background (if it matters)… I have a great relationship with my brother, even though we don’t talk that often. My SIL is a lovely lady and we get along well, but again, not super close. (I sometimes get the feeling from her that she sees our side of the family as being a bunch of morons that she has to put up with. Also, she rarely comes to family events.)

Anyway, my family members are all the type to be so excited about someone giving birth that they run to the hospital the moment they hear the news. I think their mentality is: if a relative is in labor, they can go to the hospital any time they want, invited or not. Because of course! They’re the family, why would they need to be invited?!

After reading your column, the logical side of me says the new mother will let people know if and when she wants visitors. On the other hand, though, I don’t know if my brother and his wife would call anyway. Maybe they assume people will just show up? I worry — if they don’t call at all and then I don’t go the hospital to visit them, will they think I don’t care? Or if I do go to the hospital (or ask them if I can come), will they think I’m too pushy? I also worry about being the only family member not hanging out in the waiting room, even if I’m staying away as a point of etiquette. And…let’s be honest, it kinda makes me sad when I think about not being included in such a major life event. Or should I just reel in all the crazy and stop thinking about it?

Thank you in advance,
Unsure Auntie

Pick up the phone right now and call your brother. Or shoot him a quick email/text if that’s typically the best way to reach him. Say something like, “Hey, just wanted to find out what you and SIL’s preferences are for visitors at the hospital. I’d absolutely love to come by when/if you guys are comfortable with it, but don’t want to intrude. Let me know! So excited!”

And…yeah. That’s really it. You ask, they (hopefully) tell you, you abide by their wishes. And even if 500 other family members decide to descend upon the waiting room like a pack of wild animals, you stick to whatever your brother tells you they prefer. Trust me, they’ll notice and they’ll appreciate it and your respect will likely elevate you to special in-law status — you’re not just another moron she has to put up with, you’re now the only one who understands privacy and boundaries AND that the hospital isn’t like the world’s worst Internet comment section, with relatives all trying to scream FIRST!!1!! over a newborn who is basically not going to do a single interesting thing for several more weeks.

The fact that they haven’t explicitly communicated their wishes to everybody suggests that they either 1) are aware and okay with your family’s tendency to stage an Occupy Waiting Room for every birth, and you’ll be welcome to join in with everybody else, or 2) are planning to not tell anybody ahead of time and will spread the news in their own time. If it’s option two, your pre-labor call/text/email should still be fine, since you’re going to phrase it carefully and not just up and invite yourself — while you would love to be there (HINT: PLZ CALL ME I’M ONE OF THE GOOD ONES), you understand that it’s completely up to them and you will respect their privacy no matter what.

There’s also the chance that her views/wishes on visitors will change, by the way. I was ALL ABOUT inviting people to the hospital before having my first baby (NOT during labor, but after I was in my room), only to end up with an emergency c-section and loopy and not nearly as sociable as I’d been expecting. I wanted immediate family only, and only in very short bursts. I had some friends come and mostly felt guilty at how lame and boring and short the visit must have been for them, since I was so tired and the baby never woke up.

With my second, I was much more excited to have visitors, mostly because I wanted a break in the monotony that comes with a multi-day hospital stay. With my third, I was all about visitors for the first day or two, then they removed my IV and I felt like crap and lack of sleep at nights crept up on me and I had to sadly tell a few friends who were slated to visit that I just wasn’t up to it, after all. As far as I know, everyone understood completely and we arranged for them to come visit us at home ASAP.

So there’s the etiquette, I guess, in a nutshell. It’s perfectly okay to ask, particularly if you frame it as simply wanting to respect their wishes and not to intrude. Respect what they tell you, and don’t take it too personally if they aren’t ready to commit to visitors or decide to change the policy after the birth, depending on how your SIL is feeling. If they tell you it’s cool for you to visit beforehand, then you hear it through the family grapevine that the baby has arrived, you can probably still assume your invite stands and stop by. Plan to keep your visit short, and watch for signs that you’re overstaying your welcome (nurses coming in for checks, your SIL yawning or falling silent, your brother seems stressed out/not himself) and then give your congrats and goodbyes and give them some space.

And if they do say they prefer no hospital visitors, that’s really okay too and nothing personal. Hospital visits are overrated, if you ask me, and you’ll get a much better auntie experience if you visit them at home, once they’ve settled in a little. The baby will still be tiny and brand-new but there will be more to talk about and BELIEVE ME, their sofa is going to be a way more comfortable place for snuggles than the average hospital chair.

But you won’t know until you ask, so stop reading this nonsense already and go! Ask! Before that baby gets here! Hurry!

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Katie

    June 23, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Yes, Yes, YES! To what Amy said. We didn’t think to set up boundaries for my son’s birth. I was in the hospital four days before he was eventually born by emergency c-section. I wasn’t up to a lot of visitors, much less five at once. 

  • Christy

    June 23, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Hey – congratulations on being an Aunt! That’s really exciting. Totally agree with the advice to call or txt your brother…for two reasons. One is what Amy spelled out – you want to respect their wishes and find out what they want.


    Listen, I married into a family who I really love but for whom culturally there are no real boundaries with things like this. “Oh you already have four visitors staying with you? NEAT, we’ll just sleep on the floor and it will be a big party!” I’m sure for some people that’s true but for me it’s a big stressful ball of hell and it turns me into a zombie like person I do not want to be, just gritting teeth and trying to get through it.

    It’s taken me a REALLY long time to learn to anticipate this kind of reaction because it’s so foreign to me and my family background. It would never ever have occurred to me that people might have come to the hospital waiting room because my family would never have thought to do that – they’d come when we wanted them, the end. And I’m thinking that maybe in all the excitement of the baby it might not have even occurred to your SIL that your family might descend while she is in labour – waiting room or not. And your brother is a dude so maybe hasn’t really thought about it or if he has maybe figures it isn’t a big deal anyway.

    Anyway – my point is that maybe by doing this you will not only be showing yourself to be super respectful and awesome, you will also perhaps be helping your SIL out by cluing her in to what is “normal” for your family and giving her a chance to voice her preferences – at least to her husband.

    Good luck and hope everything goes AMAZINGLY well.


  • SarahB

    June 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Good for you, OP, for thinking this through in advance!

    I’ll only add that you’d best not just “stop by” if they say it’s ok, but still call or text your brother first to see when’s a good time. It is so hard to know how birth will make you feel, so please do consider that being asked not to be around doesn’t have anything to do with you and everything to do with how your SIL is feeling or how the baby is doing (i.e., if breast-feeding isn’t going well, it’s a lot harder to have visitors). Please try to take it all in stride and remember that there’s a whole lifetime to get to know your new niece/nephew.

    Given the relationship you described, I would not expect that she would want you or any other ILs there when she’s in labor. I mean, if she’s not showing up for a family BBQ, why would she want the ILs around when she’s in pain and physically vulnerable, right? I’d err on the side of giving them space.

    I agree with a PP that you might serve to alert your brother that, gosh, the whole clan might show up and would SIL be ok with that? And, bonus, if you might speak up to your relatives and ask if your brother has said anything about how they want to handle visitors and perhaps be the voice of reason mentioning a desire to respect your SIL’s wishes, since she’s the one giving birth and all?

    I’ve had some ups and downs with my ILs, and I remember in distinct detail with gratitude when any of my ILs has stood up for me.

  • Kat

    June 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Spot on advice from all. My family is quite reserved too, and would never think to just show up (or wait in a waiting room for anything, ever), but my MIL was all about being there in the waiting room and immediately after. I knew that and I kept my birth plan/visitor plan to myself until right before when I told my husband that we will tell people AFTER the baby is born and give them a specific time for them to stop by when I am good and ready (for most folks it was a day or two later but we were still in the hospital (blargh). So – to someone else’s point, the mere act of voicing (or texting) your desire to respect boundaries may gain you a new level of respect from your SIL (and may mean that you get to stop by sooner, while they kind of keep everyone else at arm’s length due to their tendency to crash the waiting room.

  • Ali

    June 23, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    This question brings back IL drama from my son’s birth. as soon as they got the call my water broke, four family members showed up at the hospital. After me asking repeatedly that they go home and we would call them if something actually happened (I wasn’t even having contractions!), they didn’t leave. My husband, bless his heart, kept repeating that they just wanted to be there despite the fact it all was totally stressing me out. (No, MIL! I don’t think my baby is coming in the next 4-5 hours because that’s what happened to you….especially when the dr is guessing it will be more like 18-24. Aghhhh.). Sooooo…all that to say: I say reach out to your SIL directly and ask her what she wants . Your brother may just be guessing if you ask him or may be like my husband and just not “get it.” It sounds like you are trying to be respectful and watch boundaries–and that’s great and will be much appreciated! So I would just tell her even if she thinks she wants something, just to be direct and let you know if she changes her mind. And if she does say at the hospital “go home,” then listen. 🙂 Gosh, I sound like I have a lot of built up hostility on this issue . Haha!

  • Amy Renee

    June 23, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    +1 to clueing your SIL to what is considered “normal” in your family and then asking she’s OK with that or wants you to run interference with your family to keep them away from the hospital. My family would never think of visiting a new mother in the hospital, but my husband’s father’s family all interpreted the “baby is born” message as “everyone go show up and visit the baby in the hospital on their way home from work”. It was awkward, because all I wanted to do was sleep or try to figure out this whole breastfeeding/swaddling/diapering a newborn, and I didn’t need an audience of people I didnt particularly know or like there with me (thinking of one aunt in particular).
    Also, don’t be insulted if she invites her family first – its not a contest, or a game with points to keep score on. Just tell her you are excited to meet the baby, whenever they are ready for visitors. And then if its at their house, show up with food – you will be appreciated 🙂

  • S

    June 24, 2014 at 2:44 am

    OMG, yes you need to reel in your crazy and that of your entire family. Do not go to the hospital, do not force the new mother to cook dinner for you while you visit, do not steal her brand new baby out of her arms and take it away to another room, do not tell her how to take care of her baby, do not invite your friends to show up at their house, do not show up at the house uninvited, just stay back. Give it time. Do not go anywhere near them and do not let your mother near them for at least two weeks. This is not your baby. Explain now to your overbearing family that when they do hold the baby, they need to sit down and stay there so the mother knows where her newborn is. They can help by bringing food. Holding the baby is not helping. This is not your baby. It is not your cousin’s baby. It is not your mom’s baby. Teach everyone to back off.

    • kim too

      June 26, 2014 at 2:06 am

      Whoa, Nellie.  Nothing in here is crazy – just different expectations.  I had 8 people in the waiting room at my first birth, and it felt completely normal to me.  I come from a big family, this was the first great grandchild, and to me, having everyone there felt loving and comforting. Not crazy at all. 

      The OP is acknowledging and respecting that not all families are the same, maybe we can all do the same.

  • Becca

    June 24, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Yeah, my husband’s family is more of the “we’ll just all crash at your house! It’ll be fun!” I’ve said no, maybe not too gracefully, but now that I’ve mellowed a bit and would be cool with people coming over they all have figured out that Becca likes people to stay in hotels. My SIL has truly been great in this regard, always asking about visits/how long/who’s cooking/what are the boundaries with the kids. She’s definitely earned my trust. So ask, don’t get your feelings hurt if they ask for space (she might be an introvert like me who still can’t fathom that I’m supposed to like and hang out with a whole new family because I married one of the sons;) hopefully all goes well.

  • Anna

    June 24, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Loved the advice that you’ve got the rest of the child’s life to get to know it, and want to piggy back on that with: if you (or your family) crosses a line or boundary right after the baby is born it may be a hell of a lot harder for you to get to spend time wth the baby. My inlaws were so overwhelming and so over the line after my son was born that just now, 19 months later, I’m letting them see him on a remotely regular basis.

    Everyone, inlaws or not, needs to back the EFF off new moms and listen to them about their needs!

  • Bonnie

    June 24, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Yes, yes, as usual yes to Amy’s spot-on response. Just ask! I would have been so relieved if any of my ILs had just asked in advance what we wanted re: visitors both during and after labor. Instead, we had to head off my MIL’s expectations and explain that we didn’t want anyone at the hospital when I went in to be induced. I was annoyed that she was “so offended about being left out” (her words) but I think I was far more annoyed that she just assumed it would go her way and behaving as if by avoiding talking about it in advance, she would just continue to believe in her “right” to be there. So really, just put the ball in her court and understand that even if she says “yes” in advance, once the baby is born she might not be up for visitors, so like some of the other commenters said, call or text again before you do end up visiting.

    Good luck, auntie! It will be a blast!

  • Jamie

    June 24, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    I would just like to say, definitely ask, but I feel like everyone is posting assuming she wont want you there.  Its definitely her prerogative and you need to respect her wishes, but we’re not super close to my BIL and SIL and they still came to the hospital and I welcomed them (they happened to be visiting NY) and I had no problem with my Inlaws staying in the waiting room.  I also had no problem having other people hold the baby (I knew I would have plenty of one on one time while my husbands family was heading back across the country) and sometimes I welcomed it as a time to rest.  Just follow her lead. 

  • OP

    June 25, 2014 at 1:33 am

    Amy, wow, what a surprise, thanks so much for answering my question! You gave me the clarity I needed. 🙂 

    Thanks also to all the commenters who offered some perspective- lots of good things for me to consider.  

    “S”- I think you missed the whole point of my question. I feel for you, because clearly you have a lot of bitterness, resentment, and anger to work through. It’s ok if you want to use me as a punching bag, I can handle it.  Even better, I suggest finding a great therapist- it’s actually pretty wonderful to work through all those problems, because they are a toxic thing to carry around in your heart and mind. I can only guess how much all that baggage is really weighing you down. I’m hoping and praying that you are able to have emotional healing. Take care.

  • Shannon

    June 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    I went into the hospital on a Thurs night to be induced. My in-laws arrived Fri night, expecting a baby soon. But baby didn’t come until Sunday morning! You never know how long childbirth will take or what condition the mom will be in after that marathon. I would suggest waiting until the parents call you with the news & then ask about visiting. Congrats on becoming an aunt soon!

  • Shannon

    February 1, 2015 at 2:04 am

    Bless you for caring enough to even think of this! I agree that maybe giving your SIL a heads up might be really nice… And if you were to go to bat for her and keep her from having to be the bad guy who spends those precious first hours alone with her husband and baby instead of with all of her in-laws…sainthood awaits. 😉

  • Michelle

    March 3, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Love all this advice!! Thank you!! I do have one other question. Who should hold the baby first? My parents or his parents? Then who should come next? My MIL is already upset that my mom will be in the L&D room seeing the birth and she thinks she should be in there as well so she can be the “first” one to see and hold the baby. Just wondering if there was a certain way to say who comes in first. 


  • Becky

    August 18, 2015 at 8:43 am

    This is such a great post, inc all comments! I’m a few weeks away from having our first and already starting to dread how my IL will be! I come from a small family and am super close to Mum so she will be at the birth but I have a really strained relationship with IL – regardless they’ll expect to descend en mass to the hospital to see Bubs and it’s stressing me already! It’s so refreshing to see it’s not just us!!!! 

  • Jean FVSU fan

    August 22, 2015 at 12:42 am

    When a woman gives birth, she needs her mother, not her mother in law. The mother in law needs to help her own daughter, and if she has no daughter, be happy to be a grandma. This is a blessing. 

    Mothers in law do not have the right to be in andma. her daughter in aw’s private birthing space. Do not take it petsonally. As soon as the child is born and the daughter in law is covered, the mother in law can go in to see the baby. 

     Mothers in law need to relax and await the baby’s birth. Allow your son’s wife to be comfortable and exposed in private. She does notneed a strange woman seeing her naked. You are not her mother. 

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