Even when you think you’ve got it covered, don’t hesitate to ask for a hand.
Communicating our needs can be difficult at any stage of life — and it certainly doesn’t get easier after a baby arrives. During this time of uphill battles — some literal (like hauling a stroller up a flight of stairs) and some figurative (like dealing with postpartum anxiety) — it’s not unusual to feel awkward about asking for help.
It’s only human to feel like we’re imposing on others by asking for a hand. But attempting to power through baby care single-handedly can leave you feeling overwhelmed and alone. Parenting your new little one requires extreme amounts of energy and fortitude, and it’s absolutely okay if you’re not able to muster them at the moment.
To help you get what you need during this time, we spoke to moms and communication experts about ways to ask for — and actually receive —meaningful help. Here are 12 of their best strategies for asking family, friends, co-workers, and even your partner to lend a hand.
Real talk: Amidst the stressors of the parenthood transition, we’re not always thinking with perfect clarity. Running on fumes and up to your ears in dirty onesies, you may feel shadowed by a vague cloud of to-dos. In order to get the most useful assistance, first try cutting through the chaos with a simple writing activity.
“A bullet list or journal can be an effective way to suss out what’s really going on in your mind,” says licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Anna Hiatt Nicholaides. “Once you have identified your need, you can think about how to communicate it.” Make a list of everything that feels overwhelming, then sort it into categories of highest to lowest priority.
Keeping a physical list on hand won’t just help you sort through your thoughts, it’ll give direction for others.
“When people visit, they often want to hold the baby for you. What you may need, though, is for them to make you a sandwich, put in a load of laundry, or scrub the toilet,” says private practice counselor Kayce Hodos, LPC. “Have a list of chores that seem impossible to get to, and when people ask what you need, hand it over.”
Reaching out once is hard enough. Doing it a second time can feel even more uncomfortable. So when the friend who said she’d clean for you doesn’t show or a meal delivery goes missing, you may feel timid about following up. Don’t be, says Nicholaides.
“It is disheartening to have your needs ignored, especially when you’re dedicating your life to your infant’s needs, but you deserve to be cared for,” she encourages. “Persist in seeking to meet your needs, whatever they may be. If your spouse is unresponsive, look to your family or close friends.”
Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes: Wouldn’t you want to know if you dropped the ball on helping a friend?
Websites like Meal Train and Take Them a Meal are fabulous for coordinating home-cooked dinners from family and friends. Surprisingly, their helpfulness can go beyond meatloaf and casserole.
These types of templates can schedule all sorts of services from loved ones, from chores to babysitting. You might even use them to express things that are hard to say in person. “Be sure to communicate preferences on how long people can stay and visit with you, as well as information on any dietary restrictions or preferences,” advises therapist Annie Hsueh, PhD.
These days, there’s no shortage of apps and websites intended to lighten new parents’ loads. Consider letting one of them digitize your baby-related needs.
“After having twins and realizing that I needed more help, I created a signup through SignUp Genius for people to come by and hold my girls and give them their bottles,” says mom Bethany C. “In addition to the physical help, it was really nice to get some social interaction during that crazy time.”
“One way new parents can communicate their needs effectively after baby arrives is by using Trello boards as to-do lists,” adds marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind, LMFT. Trello’s digital organization tools are often used for work collaboration — but there’s no reason they can’t do the same for domestic responsibilities.
Online communication may even be the best way of staying on the same page with your partner, especially if you have busy schedules. “Create ways to communicate you can both read, such as using Google’s Keep,” recommends Ziskind.
When you feel self-conscious about reaching out, how about identifying someone who can make requests on your behalf? “I had a friend who demanded I pick one of three ways she could support me, so I chose a Meal Train and it was literally the best thing,” recalls mom Whitney S.
“My advice would be to go through a good friend or family member that can make things happen so you don’t have to worry about imposing.” We all have that one family member who won’t hesitate to speak their mind. Use them!
As you’ve probably learned from experience, social media can be a blessing and a curse. This is no less true when it comes to feeling supported after baby’s arrival.
“Social media can be a place to find support from other new moms and actually to connect with parent groups and other resources in their community,” says Hodos. “While trying to get baby to sleep in the middle of the night, mom can scroll to keep herself awake and even find helpful tips from other new parents.”
As for seeking help from friends and family, however, Hodos doesn’t advise broadcasting your needs on Insta. “I’d say reach out individually. Posting this kind of stuff on social can feel extremely vulnerable, and you don’t need added pressure of people you don’t know or trust commenting on your business.”
Can’t bring yourself to ask your BFF to scrape the gunk off your dinner plates? Now you can ask a stranger to do it. Sites like Task Rabbit let you search a database of folks who want nothing more than to help you out with household tasks for a little cash. (And yes, they have to pass background checks.)
If budget allows, this type of here-and-there help could be your ticket to less stress.
For anyone with less-than-perfect relationships with family (uh, all of us) it may be easier to share burdens with those outside our immediate circle. Enter the parent support group.
These groups can be found for every new-parent issue from breastfeeding to babywearing. Hey, it never hurts to spend time with folks in the same boat as you, right?
You also never know what helpful doors a support group might open. “I attended a La Leche League meeting where I met some wonderful women. That eventually led me to finding a doctor who could help with my baby’s tongue tie,” reports Bethany C.
Lactation consultants, pediatricians, and family therapists exist for a reason. With certain post-baby issues, help from friends and family can only take you so far. Perhaps it’s time to get in touch with a professional.
Wondering how to find the right mental health pro? “If a new mom is struggling to find a therapist who can be of help, reach out to other new moms who likely have utilized help as well,” recommends Lauren Cook, MMFT. “Psychology Today is another great resource if a new mom is unsure where to look.”
For questions about baby care or feeding, don’t hesitate to check in with your baby’s doc. “Many pediatricians have lactation nurses on staff, and if they don’t, they should have recommendations on where to turn,” says Hodos.
Need to get your 60-inch stroller through a revolving door? Can’t seem to juggle your car keys, diaper bag, groceries, and car seat all at once? There’s a time and place, especially when out and about, to simply ask for help from a stranger.
But how do you take the plunge? “The best thing is to use eye contact and a smile so that the person knows you’re looking directly at them,” says Cook. “You can say, ‘Hi there, my hands are so full right now, do you mind opening the door for me?’ Always say thank you for their help as people like to feel appreciated for their acts of kindness.”
The trickiest conversation of all about getting the help you need may be the one with your spouse or partner. In this most intimate relationship, it’s important to communicate honestly — and at the right moment.
“Pick a time to discuss your needs and your partner’s needs when both of you have a bit of free time and are in a relaxed mood,” says marriage and family therapist Gabrielle Applebury, LMFT. “Always ask your partner if it is a good time to discuss this topic before jumping into it.” (As in, not in the middle of the night when you’re both exhausted and cranky).
Once you’ve had an initial convo, don’t stop! “Communicating about needs is not a one-time conversation — rather it is a daily discussion, perhaps hourly sometimes,” says Cook. “The best thing you and your partner can do is be open to flexibility, knowing that sometimes you will need more help than others,” says Cook.
In a culture that values self-reliance, it can be tough to admit we can’t do it all on our own. But new parenthood is a time of major adjustment, and there’s no shame in communicating your needs. When doing so gets you the help you require, you won’t be sorry you spoke up.
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.