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Mother's Helper

Figure out what you can -- and can't -- do

You'll make your life much easier if you plan out the two months after the delivery as ardently as you do the actual birth. "We had help those first two weeks," says Ann Marie White, "but everything after that we weren't prepared for at all."

Between the new responsibilities you'll have (2 a.m. feedings) and the old standbys (walking the dog), it'll help to separate the must-do's from the maybe-laters. Create a list of essential needs -- eating, sleeping, caring for the baby -- as well as a list of lesser concerns, such as housekeeping and practically everything else.

Then talk honestly with your partner about which chores you can handle and which you'll have to hand off. Know that you may be too tired at first to do some of the most basic tasks, like hauling a basket of laundry.

And before the baby's even born:

* Cook and freeze individual meals.

* Practice assembling all your new baby contraptions so you don't have to decode those portacrib, directions while in a state of advanced sleep deprivation.

* Establish a bond with neighbors so you feel comfortable calling on them in a pinch.

Speak up about what you want...
If you feel guilty about asking for help, follow that old Nike slogan: Just do it. Folks might be thrilled to be asked, says Grauer. "Say a coworker calls and says, 'I wanted to bring over a present for the baby -- is there anything you need?' We usually reflexively answer, 'Oh, no, everything's fine, thank you.' Stop doing that. Say, 'Would you mind bringing a gallon of milk?' People don't feel inconvenienced. They feel like they did something for you at a very special time."
In fact, for exhausted new parents, the shortest visits can be the biggest hits. A week after her son Quinn was born, "a colleague dropped off chicken salad and a bottle of wine, oohed and ahhed over the baby for fifteen minutes, and left," says Helen Olsson of Boulder, Colorado. "It was a revelation to me."