If arranging for all this kind of relief still seems like something for other people, keep in mind that you can always send the people you've scheduled away if it turns out you don't need them, advises Nicole Zickler, a Seattle mom. "You don't know what will happen in delivery," says Zickler. "We prepared as if we would need a lot of help, telling the people we asked to come that we might end up sending them home."
Her daughter's birth went smoothly, but Zickler says she was glad to have her mom and dad with her, regardless. "During the first week, my mom would ask, 'Are you ready for me to go?,' and I'd say, 'No, please don't ever leave me!'" Zickler admits she was especially lucky when it came to her parents being there: Her mother had had four children and is a nurse, and her dad is an emergency-room physician. Perhaps more important, she says, both of her parents are instinctive caregivers, nurturing but not overprotective, and intuitive about what needs to be done. "She would make the beds and do the laundry and answer the phone without my even being aware of it," says Zickler.
In fact, the intensity of household needs during the first few weeks can often turn family and friends -- even ones who may drive you a little crazy ordinarily -- into tremendous helpers. Moms and mothers-in-law have been through childbirth, and they automatically love the baby, often making them ideal choices. But if that isn't the case or they aren't available, Nicol says it is important for you to to look for caregivers who will keep your interests top of mind. Be certain not to make the easy mistake of allowing people into your home whom you typically have to care for or entertain.
Friends with whom you are especially close may be the best choice, even if they have little baby experience, since you'll feel more comfortable telling them how you feel, and they'll instinctively know more of what you need without your asking. Besides, from walking the now-ignored dog to putting a meal on the table or picking up duplicate photos, there is definitely more than enough non-baby-related work to be done.
If there is no one near you or available whom you feel comfortable asking for in-home postpartum help, be aggressive about hiring the assistance you think you'll need. Many birthing centers, nursing agencies, and hospitals can now refer women to baby nurses or postpartum doulas. Baby nurses (who are not usually medical nurses) can live in and are available, in shifts, up to 24 hours a day. They specialize in newborn care and allow a new mother to sleep.
Postpartum doulas focus on making sure a new mom is comfortable caring for her baby, all the while emphasizing mother care. Both are expensive -- nurses from $20 to $30 an hour and postpartum doulas from $10 to $40 an hour -- but are worth saving up for if this is the type of help you'll need. Leah McNeill, a new mom, midwife, and part owner of the Puget Sound Midwives and Birth Center, in Kirkland, Washington, opted for doula help after the birth of her son, Eric, to cover the times when her mother couldn't be there. McNeill says she used her doula nearly every day in the beginning, then three times a week for a few hours in the afternoon and evening. "I'm a single mom," explains McNeill, "and having her around let me take a nap or a shower."