Having a baby, is an overwhelming experience. It is filled with the joy and wonder of a new miracle, yet also trepidation at the adjustment to this little person fitting into your life. No matter if you are having your first baby or your seventh, the postpartum period is exhausting and overwhelming. “Please let me know how I can help!” is a common offer from so many people, but figuring out how to get the help you need can be tricky, especially when you’re in survival mode. Here are some things you can do to help your friends and family provide the most valuable help to you.

Prepare Visitors Before Baby Comes

If your friends are offering a baby shower, that’s the perfect time to arrange a “help-list” for after the baby is born. I love seeing these at showers and it really allows people to help in the areas that fit them best and where it is the most convenient. Make a spreadsheet (or ask the host to) including sign ups for the following. Babylist also has this feature and you could set up a laptop or iPad for people to sign up:

  • Meals. Mention disposable containers so no washing and returning dishes is involved.
  • A big bag of healthy snacks for mama’s nursing station, a quick breakfast, or food to have on hand when making something seems overwhelming. Lactation cookies are perfect for the breastfeeding mom.
  • Babysitting. This can include coming over to watch older children for a while, or taking them on a fun outing; or holding and caring for the baby while mom gets a shower or a nap, or both!
  • House cleaning. Some people love to vacuum while others can make a kitchen shine in no time. Keep it generic here and have them sign up for specific dates. Every couple of days is best. It can be helpful to make a chore list and keep it on your fridge for when visitors come. They can choose from the list what they’d like to do, or look around and see what is most pressing at the time. Some ideas are: clean out the fridge, do/fold laundry, clean the kitchen, clean bathrooms, vacuum, and dust. You can also easily book a home service last minute through Amazon.
  • Dog walking. The last thing a recovering mom wants to do it take the mutt for a walk. This simple gesture is so helpful and kind.
  • Yard Work. The non-essentials usually take a back seat to pressing survival tasks, but it can be really nice to look out your window and see a freshly mowed lawn rather than weeds taking over your flower bed.
  • Bring some necessity groceries. Ask a few close friends in advance to text you every time they run to Target or Costco to see if there is anything you want. It’s convenient for them since they are shopping already, and an urgent need can be filled when you suddenly run out of toilet paper, milk, eggs, bread, or coffee!
  • Carpool arrangements for kids for a few weeks. No new mom wants to drive kids to school and activities, let alone buckle and unbuckle a screaming newborn a zillion times a day. Sharing the driving is a simple gesture, and so helpful to mama.

Register on babylist for help with service items and specific gifts. Include presents for mom too, like some cute new nursing tops or lounge wear for post baby. New pajamas or a robe can make you feel more comfortable in your postpartum body. Aside from “normal” baby gifts, include really helpful items like postpartum massage certificates, lactation cookies, and paper plates/products to get you through the first little while.

Prepare for the Unknowns

postpartum skin to skin

Keep a list on hand of close friends to call who would be willing to answer a 911 text. Postpartum hormones are no joke. Combine that with lack of sleep, a changing body, isolation, and recovery discomforts and any mom can feel pretty low. Ask your closest friends if they would be on standby for a “mayday” text. It’s hard to anticipate exact needs, but you may want someone to listen while you cry, to help you with breastfeeding challenges, or someone to just talk to you and tell you it’s all normal. Let them know ahead of time that they are on your list and put down about five names in case the first few people you contact are not available. Nothing can be more depressing than finally getting up the nerve to reach out only to be shot down.

Make a sign for your front door that says something like: “New baby. Please do not disturb.” Along that line, disconnect the doorbell. There’s nothing worse than finally settling the baby to sleep to be woken up by UPS five minutes later.

Write a note to your postpartum self about how this will not last forever and you will be back to your normal self soon. Assure yourself you will sleep again. Mention the good times ahead and suggest a list of small self care rituals you can do when you are feeling particularly low. Include affirmations. Be realistic but encouraging. This too shall pass.

Post Baby Helpers

Most people really want to help, but don’t know what they can do or are afraid of intruding. Help them by being honest and asking for what you need. When you get the “how are you holding up?” text be candid when you respond. Even if you feel pretty good at the moment, or can’t think of exactly what you need, ask if they can text you in the next few days to see how you are feeling then.

Suggestions you can give to friends when they ask how they can help

  • Pick up some groceries or run some errands. Ask them to text you when they go to Target or Costco. Keep a list handy so when someone goes you know what you need.
  • Suggest specific things you’d like done. Ask them if they feel up for some light housecleaning. Refer them to the list on the fridge.
  • A good friend might be willing to crash on your couch and help with a night shift. I would personally love to do this for someone, especially when I am used to getting a good night’s sleep.
  • If their schedule allows, the witching hour is a great time to show up (anytime after 4 pm). This is when energy is running low and patience waning thin, and there can be chaos in the house, especially if you still have to make dinner. A visit around this time can save the day.
  • Need some social time? Plan a short walk together. Run an errand together—she can help with the baby while you try on a few new shirts or bras, or buy some new makeup or hair product to brighten your day. A quick girls outing might be just what the doctor ordered. Keep it short so you won’t get too tired or flustered or have a soaking letdown!
  • If a friend wants to bring something, these small items can make a postpartum mom feel like it’s Christmas: fun magazines; items to pamper mom like lotions, candles, bath salts or nail polish; soft cozy things like socks, robes, shirts. Things that make you feel human and feminine go a long way.

Last but not least

Know the signs of postpartum depression, and keep a list of them handy. Review it every so often. Mention the list to your partner, so they can also be aware of your emotional, physical, and mental state. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to truly realize there is more going on beneath the surface. Remember there is no shame in seeking help. Be honest with your healthcare providers and yourself about what you are truly experiencing.

With thoughtful planning and a little foresight, you can make your postpartum experience a little more pleasant. Enlist the help and support of those who love you.