If you or your friends are starting to have babies, the community of friends is crucial. Here’s how to pitch in to offer practical help and emotional support to growing families.

I’m an even-keel person, but after my firstborn arrived, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotional, as well as physically wrecked. Childbirth and the fourth trimester are intense experiences, and partner Grownups will be just as shocked at all the hurdles. (Partners, check out these resources just for you.)

Even if you’re a planner like me, it’s impossible to know how you’ll feel after your baby arrives. Most women experience the gamut of hormones, from weepy mess to elated overachiever, sometimes within 15 minutes. We’re not easy to help­—you’ll likely feel relieved, grateful, sentimental, and also deeply irritated with people’s efforts to be kind because they might not get it right. That’s normal—for you and them. But let them try.

Here are a few tips for how friends and family can help your new family.

Meal train: Dinners are a no-brainer, and websites like mealtrain.com make organizing dinner shifts a snap. Set up a schedule before your baby is born, or enlist a friend or family member to organize. If grandparents are coming to help during the first weeks, consider scheduling meals to start once they head home. Book every other day to avoid being buried in food.

Extra eats: Not everyone cooks, but healthy snacks, baked goods, and gift cards to local restaurants also help new families. Truth be told, it’s nice to choose your own menu. Offer these suggestions if friends and family are looking for ideas, but don’t have time or live near enough to cook. A grocery delivery service, like Amazon’s Prime Pantry is also helpful.

Gently remind people you may not be up for visiting when they drop by with food. Have them text ahead to let you know when they’re coming (you won’t keep track, trust me), then gauge your energy level. I recommend creating a “Mom/Baby Sleeping” sign to post on your door, so people avoid ringing the doorbell and waking you or your baby.

Practical help: Allow yourself to rest, really rest, and accept offers to help so you can heal and bond with your newborn. Let visiting grandparents handle food prep, household chores, grocery shopping, and other errands—and don’t be afraid to suggest a hotel if staying with you is too intrusive. Resist the urge to tidy up for visiting friends—let them walk the dog, tackle chores, or hold your baby while you shower.

Housecleaning: You’ll be surprised at the baby detritus that accumulates. If your extended family wants to buy you a housecleaning service, lucky you—but consider timing. You may not need it to start while you’re still healing and sleeping. Life looks very different after the first six weeks. If family live nearby and want to deep clean for you, yay. But again, timing. I was amazed how fragmented and overwhelmed I felt by people’s energy in the early days.

Running errands: If friends or family call from the grocery store to ask if you need anything, take them up on their offer. Bundling a baby into the car is a headache in the beginning. Or perhaps you need moral and practical support for a Target run to buy new nursing bras. Your friend could come along to mind the baby—and maybe even drive you. I was so flummoxed by traffic during my first trips out; I could have used a steady presence to handle navigating.

Babysitting: If you’re welcoming your second baby, let close friends and family take your older child out for her own adventure—if she’s comfortable with that person. She needs some special attention too, and trips to the park will help her burn off some pent-up and possibly unhappy energy.

Visiting: Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? Sometimes friends and family want to give new moms their space, but being cooped up at home can feel isolating. Socializing might be just what you need, so let people know you’d love to see them. Keep in mind, you may not last more than 20 minutes, initially. If people crowd in too much during the first weeks, enlist your partner’s help to shepherd them out the door as necessary. Agree on a small signal so your partner knows you’ve had enough. You’ll soon have energy for longer visits.

Friends with kids can turn out to be a lifeline—they’ll help you process your new role as a parent. Of course, it doesn’t help if they’re bragging about their baby sleeping through the night when you’re losing your mind from sleep deprivation. Consider who will be the most supportive and able to listen to your concerns.

As time passes, you’ll get into the swing of parenting, and the newborn stage will become a blur. But you won’t soon forget the help everyone contributed to launching your new family.

Joanna Nesbit writes about college, education,
personal finance, and the nuts and bolts of
transitioning to adulthood. Follow her on Twitter
at @joannanesbit or learn more at Joannanesbit.com.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

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