The first two weeks after my son was born were two of the most difficult weeks of my life, to date. Nothing prepares a first time mom for the madness that ensues after a baby is born. Thankfully, I had help. Both my family and my husband’s live relatively nearby, so we weren’t completely alone. Still, now that I somewhat know what to expect this time around, I wish I had done a few things differently to truly optimize the help moms needs right after giving birth.

7 ways to help a post-partum mom1. Differentiate between visitors and helpers.
Most people come over to visit, and that may suit your needs and personality. After all, if you’re all by your lonesome, nothing beats the blues than a good friend or relative stopping by to chat about regular conversation.

On the other hand, you may also want or need helpers, not necessarily visitors. Looking back at those first few weeks, my husband and I definitely treated people as visitors, which were of course appreciated, but draining. We were still of the mindset that when people come over, we entertain. That meant that rather than sleeping, eating or showering while they cooed over the baby, we stayed awake, talking to our guests. Fun indeed, but we could have really cashed in on some precious babysitting time.

2. Space out your visitors and helpers.
Since we still live about 45 minutes away from our families during weekdays, they all came on the weekends. This time around, I may ask folks to stagger their visiting days so that we don’t get overwhelmed with too many folks at our place, and so that we can maximize the help we could surely use.

3. Be specific with the kind of help you need.
Most people really want to help others; they just may not know how. Rather than relying on the ubiquitous, “If you need help, let me know,” phrase, make up a list of tasks you’d actually love to have help with. The first time around, I just assumed that any help is appreciated and I’d do the rest, but now I realize that having just given birth gives you the leeway to shamelessly whip up a task list for friends and family.

For instance, I’ve already written a list that includes bringing meals, washing the kids’ laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming and watering the plants among other tasks.

4. Don’t be shy about asking for help.
The time to shed the social cues that keep you from asking for help is right when you’ve given birth. I plan to ask family and friends for help in advance, even laying out the list I just mentioned, to see if they’d be willing and able to help us out. Most people genuinely want to help and may even appreciate being given a task rather than asking you for what you may need.

5. Be creative with different ways people can help.
Bless my sister who offered two of the most amazing ways anyone can help a postpartum mom: First, she offered to lend us any of her DVDs and tapes, even asking what genres we prefer (comedy!). Secondly, she gave us a call and asked, “I’m at the grocery—do you need anything?” Think about what you might need during those first few weeks, from entertainment to random errands that became more difficult to run.

6. Ask for the kind of help that allows you to bond with your baby.
When people come to visit, no doubt they’re excited to meet the newest member of the bunch. But keep in mind they’re also here for you, and if they’re doing the dishes while you’re snuggling with the baby in your room, then that is help as well. It may seem odd to assign tasks to your guests while you and your baby are elsewhere getting to know each other, but often this early bonding can help moms learn more about their babies and simply enjoy new motherhood.

7. Friends and family make great babysitters—for your older kids or the new baby.
Now that this is my second pregnancy, I’ll have to contend with balancing my preschooler’s needs with those of my own and my babies. Visitors can help by taking your older kids on a fun outing, giving you time to relax with the baby; or conversely, stay with the baby so that you can spend much-needed bonding time with the older kids.

Knowing now what to expect (although with twins, I’m not sure I’m all that experienced this time around, regardless of having already gone through childbirth once!), I’m better able to see just how our loved ones can help us best during one of the most challenging times of parenthood.

What were some of the best ways your family and friends best helped you out? Do you prefer visitors to come over to chit chat or to help around the house?