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The 6 Secrets of Happy Moms

Throughout my first pregnancy, I focused on the imaginary baby floating inside me. I drank lots of milk (for the bone-building calcium) and ate lots of fish from unpolluted waters (brain food). I interviewed pediatricians and checked out childcare. I agonized for weeks over the perfect wallpaper for the nursery. I made lists of likely names.

Finally, Henry arrived. And in those first tumultuous weeks after giving birth, I realized that the one aspect of motherhood I hadn't planned ahead for was  -- me! I faced so many changes, from the state of my body to my favorite topics of conversation (which had come to be babies, breastfeeding, and babies). The transition to motherhood was both thrilling and terrifying.

Since then, I've had three more children and commiserated with scores of fellow new mothers. Hindsight has shown us what nobody else has beforehand: A few saving graces can make your role change happen much more smoothly (that is, aside from having a dream baby who never cries or who sleeps through the night from birth  -- no one gets those). Everybody deserves to know these secrets to new-mom happiness:

The Ability to Say "Please" and "Thank You"

We're not talking manners here. Rather, new moms need to feel comfortable asking for assistance  -- and graciously accepting it when offered. When I was pregnant, I was baffled by the sheer amount of help volunteered as my due date neared. My mother, who lives in another state, made plans to stay for three weeks. A friend insisted I take the number of her lactation consultant. Others said they'd bring meals or check up on me. It seemed like too much ado about nothing. Of course, it didn't take many days of round-the-clock feedings to realize that this was no time to go it alone.

Think of pregnancy as being four trimesters long, not three, says Cecelia Cancellaro, author of Pregnancy Stories: Real Women Share the Joys, Fears, Thrills, and Anxieties of Pregnancy From Conception to Birth. You need to extend, not end, the preparing and pampering modes of the previous nine months. Asking for help is a sign of neither weakness nor inept mothering  -- it's vital that you conserve your energy for your physical recovery and your baby's constant tending. Turn to your partner: Most brand-new dads are relieved to be made useful. Even if you're nursing, he can bring the baby to you, or he can handle some bottle-feedings. If you can afford professional services, such as housecleaning and grocery-delivery service, even for a few months, use them. You might want to consider hiring a professional doula, who is trained in postpartum assistance. Lean on friends and relatives to fill in the gaps. New moms who have practical support also lower their risk of severe postpartum depression, research shows.

Contributing editor Paula Spencer is the author of the Parenting Guide to Positive Discipline.