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Mother's Helper

...And what you don't want

Don't feel obligated to entertain. For every random act of kindness, there's someone who drops by unannounced and then offers to "help" by holding the baby while you do the dishes. Tell friends that they shouldn't expect much from you for several weeks. And if guests outstay their welcome, be honest. "If I was tired and people were over, I'd say, 'I'm going to bed,'" says Todd.

If you receive well-intentioned offers you don't want to accept, just smile and say, "Thanks." Olsson recalls an elderly couple in the neighborhood who offered to watch Quinn. "It was sweet, but I didn't know them very well. I said, 'Sure, I'll call you.'" She never did.

Don't try to do it all
The first month after childbirth should be about bonding with this new person in your life. It's an illuminating, amazing time. It's also all-consuming. When there's barely a moment for sleep and showers, dishes in the sink and dust bunnies under the sofa should not take priority. But that's easier said than done when you're used to feeling in control 24/7 -- and feeling bad when you're not.

Let it go, says Helen Olsson. She cops to an obsession with order: "I'm a little bit picky about the house being neat and the beds being made." But after having son Quinn, she found her perfectionist streak got her into trouble. "When people wanted to come over and visit the baby," she says, "there was pressure to entertain and tidy up." On top of that, Quinn was jaundiced and dehydrated because Olsson's milk supply seemed to be drying up. "Breastfeeding was kind of scary, and he wasn't eating well," she adds.

Olsson hired a lactation consultant -- "one of the best things I did" -- and during their first meeting, her pent-up stress came pouring out. "I burst into tears," she says. The consultant's prescription: that she get into bed with the baby for three days and nurse on demand to kick-start the milk supply. Official orders given, Olsson finally felt she could relax, and with her husband and her mom holding down the fort, she and Quinn got in sync. "Breastfeeding forced me not to worry about the dust bunnies as much, to put my feet up, and to just connect with the baby."