a garden in riotous bloom
Beautiful. Damn hard. Increasingly useful.
earlier sprouts 
rosefox: A giant X and the word "IRRITANT". (annoyed)
I am getting really tired of people asking "Boy or girl?" and "Is this your first?" and "How are you sleeping?" and have also been caught without suitable alternatives when meeting other people's babies. So here, have two lists of useful, appropriate, non-intrusive things to say when someone (EDIT: by which I meant someone you don't know well--apologies for not making that clear!) tells you they have a baby, introduces you to the baby, or shows you pictures of the baby. If you feel totally lost when confronted with babies, memorize these lists and you will come off like the world's #1 baby fan.

1) Statements. Statements are great! They make no assumptions at all--they don't even assume that the parent is the biological parent, or is happy to be a parent (that day or at all)--and don't require the parent to give you information that might turn out to be way more personal than you (or they) want. Statements can also be made directly to the baby, which further reduces the risk of asking accidentally inappropriate questions or hearing discomfiting anecdotes from parents given to TMI.
  • "Congratulations/mazel tov/that's wonderful!"
  • "What a cutie!"
  • "Oh gosh, so adorable!"
  • "That's a great outfit!"
  • "Look at all that hair/that bald little head!"
  • "Look at those smishable cheeks!"
  • "What long fingers/toes!"
  • "ELBOW DIMPLES OMG" (Seriously, you are permitted and encouraged to be loudly impressed by any visible part of the baby, because literally every part of a baby is, by definition, cute.)
  • "Aw, you're getting sleepy."
  • "Aw, you're a little shy. That's okay, kiddo, you're not required to make friends."
  • "Wow, what a smile!"
  • "You're making noises with your mouth! That's so cool!"
  • "You just cooed/farted/grabbed that toy! Yes you did!" (This sort of babble sounds like nonsense but it really is part of how babies learn to identify objects and actions.)
  • "Who's the cutest baby in the immediate vicinity? It's you!" (Asking and answering rhetorical questions teaches babies the patterns of conversation. I'm not making this up.)
  • "What a strong grip! Ha ha, guess you want to take my finger home with you!" (You washed your hands before touching the baby, right? Good.)
In essence, you are agreeing that the baby is a baby, and approving of the baby's baby-like qualities. You really can't go wrong with this.

2) Minimally invasive questions. Any question is going to put the parent on the spot a bit, but these at least avoid the possibility of answers involving infertility, miscarriage, life-threatening labor complications, and the like.
  • "What's the baby's name?"
  • "When was the baby born/how old is the baby?" (Do not follow this up with a comment on the baby being big or small for their age, or on expected milestones.)
  • "What's the latest exciting thing the baby learned to do?"
  • "Can I do anything for you?"
  • "I'd love to give you a present for the baby--is there anything you especially want or need?"
  • "I've/we've got a baby on the way--any advice or recommendations?"
  • "May I come over and babysit sometime?"
Topics to avoid, unless you are a close personal friend of the parent and they have indicated that such topics are fair game (because obviously these aren't things that one may never talk about, but they need to be handled with some care and context matters a lot):
  • The baby's health (including eating, sleeping, and digestion), size, personality, intelligence, or well-being.
  • The parents' health, weight/size (yes, people make comments about the bodies of people who've given birth, it's terrible and disgusting), age, mood, parenting skills, or well-being.
  • Labor and delivery. Even if you've given birth yourself and are well equipped to offer support and sympathy over a hard labor, hesitate before asking someone to recall what may have been a traumatic experience.
  • The process of procreation, including plans for any frozen eggs, sperm, or embryos.
  • The process of adoption, guardianship, or fostering, or anything regarding the baby's birth family.
  • Existing or future siblings.
  • The baby's assigned gender or genital anatomy.
  • The baby's race, citizenship, or ethnic heritage.
  • The baby's intelligence or achievements.
  • Comparing the baby with their age cohort or with any other individual child in any way.
  • Plans for the baby's education.
  • Plans for the baby's religious upbringing/education or lack thereof.
  • Plans for childcare.
  • The baby's future profession or accomplishments.
Folks with kids, feel free to let me know what you think I should add to any of these lists!
 
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