When I was pregnant with twins, my husband and I were trying to figure out what help we’d need when our babies came home. Other moms insisted that we needed a baby nurse who would take care of the twins in the nighttime. This person would teach me how to care for the babies and let me get more sleep at night, since I could stay in bed and pump breast milk while she gave the children a bottle. I had a funny feeling about the idea, but I went with it and hired someone before the babies were even born.
After delivery, I stayed in the hospital nearly a week and my newborns were in the NICU, so I wasn’t able to spend much time with them. Finally, I was able to bring my daughter home, but my son had to stay in the hospital for a few more days. I was thrilled to come home and wanted to spend every second with my new baby and my husband.
But it felt weird having a stranger with us in our home at every moment. I had little privacy, and this special time was spoiled. At one point, I let the baby nurse take my daughter into the nursery to rock her to sleep while I went to clean the kitchen. While loading the dishwasher, I burst into tears. Why was I cleaning the kitchen instead of being with my new baby? I realized I’d much rather be with my daughter and have someone else tidy up. The next day, we gave the baby nurse a full week’s pay (a hefty sum!) and told her she didn’t need to come back.
Knowing What Kind of Help You Need
What I learned is, before you bring baby home from the hospital, it’s tough to know how much and what kind of help you’ll need and want. Often, moms will overestimate or underestimate what they’ll need and end up with too much, too little or the wrong kind of help (like I did). And when you’re running on little sleep and recovering from childbirth, that can seem devastating.
Finding the right support can be tricky, but remember that the help isn’t just for you—it’s for you, baby and your family. Not enough help can lead to stress and sleep deprivation, making breastfeeding difficult, and hurting your physical and mental well-being. A weak support system can lead to isolation and can contribute to postpartum stress.
So how the heck do you figure it out? “Take a few days with the baby and experience what it’s like, and then you can decide what help will really help you,” says Lisa Spiegel, director of Soho Parenting, a support center for parents in New York City. That could mean resisting offers from family members or friends to come and help in those first days. It’s important to do this, so you find a rhythm with baby and so you have a true sense of what will lighten your load—whether it’s cleaning, cooking or help taking care of baby. “People have so much advice about what women should do, but it’s so personal,” says Spiegel, which is why she encourages couples to use their personal experience to figure out what will be most helpful to them.
Getting Help From Your Partner
Many new moms feel like they could use more help from their spouse but wrongly believe that their partner will simply know what needs to be done. “We need to debunk the myth that this should happen seamlessly,” says Spiegel. “Adults need to say what they need. Partners would never run a business without meeting, but we think that our partners should just know what’s needed. It’s about meeting and talking and problem solving together.” Spiegel recommends that new parents have a 15-minute meeting each day to check in, talk about what’s going on and figure out what each can and should be doing.
Getting Help From Family
Some new moms find themselves fighting off eager new grandparents who are launching a full-scale invasion of their home, while others wish they had more people available to help. If family members will be a primary source of support, you’ll need to manage their help and spread it out over time. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” says Spiegel. If everyone is planning on coming right after baby is born, you could find yourself overwhelmed initially and without a soul in sight a few weeks later. Spiegel advises moms to be appreciative of the help offered but to let family members know it’s is needed in an ongoing way, so spreading it out would be most beneficial.
Many moms could benefit from more support but feel shy about asking. If that’s you, Spiegel says to remind yourself that asking for help isn’t just good for you, it’s best for baby. “Practice asking for help for baby,” says Spiegel. Yup, go ahead and ask them to help with baby’s laundry or to pick up diapers for baby, instead of asking them to do something for you, if that makes you feel more comfortable. If your instinct is to say no when someone offers help, make it a point to start saying yes. With a new baby, there’s always a chore waiting to be done, whether it’s laundry to fold, something to be picked up at the grocery store or garbage to go out. If a friend comes by and offers help, give her a task. You’ll be grateful to scratch something off your to-do list, and she’ll feel good about being able to help.
Getting Help From a Paid Caregiver
If you don’t have family or friends who can help—or don’t want to ask—and you can afford it, you may want to hire a doula or baby nurse to lend a hand. If you think you may want to hire one, you can interview candidates while you’re still pregnant and narrow the field before baby is born. Or call someone after you settle in.
A postpartum doula helps support a new mom and family after baby arrives. To find a doula in your area, you can get recommendations from friends and family, or use the finder tool on the Doula Organization of North America website. And use our checklist for interviewing a doula for questions to ask.
A baby nurse isn’t actually a nurse—it’s more like a nanny who helps parents care for their newborn. Baby nurses usually stay in a family’s home 24/7, and many new parents use them for a short period of time (two weeks, a month) so they can get some sleep at night.
Plus, more from The Bump: