Sure, you incubated that baby all by your little old self, and you even brought it into the world (perhaps you had some help with that part, but still). There's no question if you can handle your new role and all of its responsibilities solo — but why would you? “Studies show that when women are massively stressed — as happens with major life changes like having a baby — we are biologically hard-wired to want to rally the troops,” explains parenting expert Ann Douglas, author of more than 20 books on pregnancy and parenting, including The Mother of All Pregnancy Books. Whereas men are more apt to react to stress with the “fight or flight” response, the female urge to bond is known as “tend and befriend.” Indeed, wise women who've tread the procreative path before you swear surrounding yourself with an entourage of helping hands will make your transition from high heels to highchairs infinitely more manageable (not to mention more pleasant, sane and sleep-filled). Here's the ideal cast of characters every new mom should have by her side...
A delivery-room nurse who isn't a sour witch: Don't like the nurse the hospital gave you? Ask for another. You'll spend countless hours with her in the hospital, and having a caring soul hovering nearby can make all the difference. “My favorite was the one who told me ‘take the pain pills; your vagina will thank you,’” says Pia Patrick, a mom of three in Dana Point, California. “Then there was the amazingly kind nurse who held my hands and let me cry when my second child was born prematurely and wasn't expected to live through the night. When my baby was able to come home two weeks later, that same nurse brought me a bottle of wine and said I should toast myself for being a good mom.” See? All the difference. If you want to hedge your bets, Douglas suggests bringing your own doula. She's like a nurse in that she's trained in childbirth, but since she's on your payroll her only concern is making sure you get the emotional and physical support you need.
The reassuring “it's totally normal” mom friend: She has kids of her own so she's read the parenting books and done all that tedious vaccine research. When she tells you not to worry, it's as good as Dr. Sears himself saying so. “She's the one who'll say, ‘Yes, it's normal for your nipples to shoot milk like they're water pistols,’” says Hallie Sawyer, a mom of three in Overland Park, Kansas. When you're fretting over something, the last place you want to look for answers is the Internet. (Unless you like getting all freaked out by worst-case scenarios.) Call this gal instead.
The trusted caregiver: As hard as this may be to fathom, there will come a day when you need to get out of the house solo — or perhaps to spend some time alone with your spouse — and you'll want this person waiting in the wings. If you're lucky, there are people in your ZIP code who share your DNA dying to fill this role.“The bonus with family is that you don't even have to pay these people,” adds Kirk Ostby, a dad to one in Lebanon, Indiana. “When you need an extra hour of sleep or the laundry done or just one hour alone with your thoughts or a night out with your spouse, these spoilers want to rush over and see their fresh, new (unspoiled) relative.” No family in town? Ask mom friends for referrals (but be careful; nobody likes a babysitter poacher), or hit up local preschools. They often have assistants eager to pick up extra work.The hands-on hubby: Ladies, take note: When we have babies, some of us have a tendency to go all mama bear and hover protectively over our spawn 24/7. We assume there's precisely one way to parent: Ours. (“Hold her this way.” “Rock her, don't bounce her.” Any of this ringing a faint bell?) While wanting to do best by your baby is admirable, oftentimes it pushes your partner right out of the picture. “When all he hears is what he's doing wrong, eventually he'll get discouraged and give up,” Douglas explains. In the long run, letting dad make his own way in his new role will make everyone happier. And anyway, who crowned you the final decision-making expert? Being partners means figuring it out together as you go.
The thorough-but-mellow pediatrician: Well, there has to be somebody who doesn't freak out when the baby gets a pea stuck in her nose (and it won't be you, mom). Douglas' advice: Talk to your friends and stockpile recommendations. “The learning curve is pretty steep when you have a new baby,” she adds. “You want to find a pediatrician who won't be annoyed by 25 panic calls in the first month, one who will say, ‘Relax, most kids get baby acne at some point.’”
The enterprising sister (or sister-in-law): Face it, new babies sleep a lot. If you're going to have a house guest during this period, it might as well be someone industrious. My older sister spent the first (sleepy) week of my daughter's life painstakingly organizing 30-plus years of my photos into matching albums. “As soon as your baby arrives, you'll have a list of jobs you may not be able to get to for the next year — or 10,” maintains Douglas. The only down-side to having an extra set of hands is that they eventually go home.A workout buddy: The happiness-boosting combination of exercise and adult conversation cannot be overemphasized. “It took me six weeks to leave the house with my first,” says Jill Booth, a mom of two in Fairfax, Virginia. “I wish I had someone to push me out the door and remind me that there were things I knew how to do with my body that didn't involve latching on.” Plus, if you're counting on your own motivation to get your workout shoes laced up, you could be waiting until Junior is off to college before it kicks in. An exercise partner offers inspiration and accountability — two things that may be in short supply right now.
The “I won't judge you if our kids' playdate turns into happy hour” friend: When you bring home a baby, your social life may take a punch to the gut. Just because you can't hit the town doesn't mean you have to hole up at home solo. “Some of my best memories are of our babies supposedly brought together to interact but instead ignoring one another on the floor while my friend and I sat with glasses of sauvignon blanc,” laughs Cari Thomas, a mom of one in Santa Barbara, California.
The single friend: Because she's not burdened with soccer games and buried under mountains of laundry, she'll have more time for you than your mommy friends — and she'll likely never tire of holding the baby. “And because she doesn't have to line up her own babysitter, she can be there at the drop of a dime,” adds Douglas. Keep her number close.The rule-bending friend: You don't necessarily want to follow her every example, but having a pal who isn't afraid to do it her way will make you feel infinitely better about your own approach. “A big part of motherhood is learning to wade through the mountains of advice coming your way and to figure out what makes sense for you and your baby,” Douglas says. “This friend has figured out who she needs to listen to: The voice in her own head.”