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The first few weeks home with a newborn are exhausting and overwhelming. You're tired. You're hormonal. No wonder it's so hard to get basic tasks done.
Read on to see what kinds of help our site parents were most grateful to get (or wish they had) from friends and relatives during this time. Then see our article about other ways to help a friend with a new baby.
Bring supplies and help set up gear
"My mom and mother-in-law came over and set up the nursery – including buying diapers, wipes, cream – while we were in the hospital. (I was superstitious and didn't want to prepare anything before the baby was born.) They also made sure I had a basket of nursing essentials – a water bottle, nipple cream, smoothies, and nursing tank tops."
"Ask [new parents] if they need anything from the store. Our baby came a week early and we were out of things like conditioner, napkins, and other household items. I had also underestimated the amount of cotton nursing bras and tanks I would need. Every time my mom came to visit she asked us what we needed and picked it up at the store for us."
"Our son was a month early, and my husband had no idea how to install the car seat. My brother came over and did it for us."
Drop off food
"A friend dropped off a bag of homemade food. That really made a difference. There was soup, hummus, cornbread, granola bars, and more. She didn't ask me or even knock on the door, so I couldn't tell her no."
"My co-workers were my food angels for a week. They brought over food in disposable pans that we could just heat and eat."
"Our friends got us gift cards to our favorite take-out places, and my husband would pick up dinner on his way home."
"My mom or my sisters would come over with fresh fruits and veggies already cut up. I loved having those healthy snacks in the fridge ready to go."
"Bring a box of cookies from the bakery. Meals are great, but quick one-handed snacks are also useful."
"Just stopping by with a coffee was a great little surprise and pick me up."
Deliver the goods, then leave
"I had a few people just drop off food and not even come in the house, which was great. I'm the kind of person who gets embarrassed if my home is messy, so I would have cleaned like crazy for visitors."
"The day after we got home, one of my husband's aunts dropped by with a trunk full of groceries and homemade frozen meals. She put it all away for us, said our baby was beautiful, and left."
"The best thing was when people called to see if I needed anything while they were out shopping, with a promise to drop it at the door and leave. They understood that the first few weeks home with a new baby are meant for healing and bonding, not for visitors."
Respect parents' privacy
"The best help for me was no help. People came by all day long the first few weeks to ask if I needed anything and – let's be honest – because they wanted to see the baby. All I really wanted was to be left alone to nap with my baby."
"My family from out of state waited until we got into a little schedule before coming out. I'm glad they didn't bombard us with visits right away."
"I appreciated the people who asked me to bring the baby by their house. I didn't have to entertain anyone or clean, and when I'd had enough I could nicely thank them for having us and go."
"Ask the new mom what would be helpful for her. Don't assume that she wants someone to take care of the baby or clean the house. I wanted space. That is all."
"Call beforehand. Don't just show up."
Do household chores
"My mom scrubbed my bathrooms for me. Best. Thing. Ever."
"My mom did my baby's and older children's laundry at her house, brought it back, and put it away."
"Based on my own experience, I am getting anyone who has a baby a gift card to a cleaning service (with their permission, of course). The thought of family cleaning my house made me feel bad, but I wish I would have had someone else come in and do it for me."
"After I had my c-section, a friend came to my house every morning to take my kids to the bus stop, make me breakfast, clean the kitchen, and do laundry. Before she left, she would cook. With her here, I was able to take a long shower, pump, and eat."
"One of my friends addressed all the envelopes for thank you cards. I'd had my baby shower just a week before we had to deliver."
"I was hoping for someone committed to helping because she understood the needs of a newborn, rather than because she finds a newborn cute and wants to hold her. I wish someone would have said, 'This is your time to be with your baby. Let me take care of the rest of the things in your house.'"
Watch the baby
"I loved it when my husband took my baby out of our bedroom so that I could sleep in the morning. But the best thing was when my mother-in-law took care of the baby for a few hours. I felt so relaxed. She just did it in silence, without talking to me."
"I didn't get much help from my husband, so it was a lifesaver when my mom came by and watched our baby a few times while I took a nap upstairs."
Take care of siblings and pets
"My parents took our two oldest children for the day and brought them back exhausted, showered, and in their pajamas so we could just put them in their beds. This happened several times."
"I had not considered my dogs. It was hard to keep them exercised with a newborn, and they were nightmares without it. Friends stepped up and took them to the dog park and on walks. It made our house so much more peaceful."
Make a specific offer
"I'd prefer that people not ask 'How can I help?' Just say, 'I'm bringing you dinner. Is Monday or Tuesday night better?' It's not as awkward and easier to answer."
"I would have loved it if someone had called to say, 'I'm going to come over twice a week to clean. What days are best for you? No judgment.'"
"I think it's best to offer something specific. If someone asks me if I need help with something, I'm likely to say no. If someone asks if it's a good time to come over to bring dinner, dust, or do the dishes, I'm more likely to say, 'Yes, please!'"
"I wish someone would have just offered a simple reassurance and said, 'Don't clean,' or 'You better be resting when I get there,' or 'I'm coming to play with Sam (my older son).'
It may seem silly, but a little mess forgiveness goes a long way. My partner actually hurt my feelings: When his brother called to say he was coming over, he said, 'Well, the house isn't the cleanest,' even though I'd thoroughly cleaned the day before."
Offer support and advice
"I just wanted company. Someone to talk to about all the changes, [ask] how I was feeling emotionally, and answer questions I might have about the baby."
"Teach me! I know absolutely nothing about babies. Yes, I read a million books and had all these 'plans,' but when it came down to it I was completely clueless. We had no local family, so we didn't have the luxury of the prior generation teaching us. I have so many experienced moms in my life. I wish any of them would have offered to just come spend a day with me and help me see cues I had been missing and show me shortcuts. I was never really sure how to ask anyone for that."
"My best friend came over twice a week for the first month and spent time with me while my boyfriend was working. She could tell I was struggling with the baby blues. Her presence really helped with my anxiety. She did laundry, brought food, and watched the baby while I napped. I appreciated everything. Just her being there for me was the best gift I got. She was a lifesaver."
"This may seem small, but encouraging words about how you are doing a good job or that you are a good mother really help. Because you constantly question if you are doing the right things for your baby."
"Be there to answer questions or just offer support when [the new mom] is overwhelmed. Sometimes she just needs to cry."
Don't stop too soon
"I had a cesarean. After the first week, everyone assumed I was fine to do everything. In reality it took closer to three weeks. People were really helpful for the first week, which was awesome. But then they all suddenly disappeared. If even one person kept helping out for a few more weeks, it would have been very welcome."