I’ve always believed the old mantra — it takes a village to raise a child. I spent all of my foundational years in the same house, in the same town, surrounded by familiar faces. Naturally, when I envisioned welcoming my first baby into the world, the picture included my people.

When I became a mother for the first time, I was living in New York, thousands of miles away from that close-knit network I’d grown to rely on. Of course, a community was there with me, but it was different than the one I had imagined.

While my pregnant friends lined up help for the early weeks with their new babies, I kept my village at arm’s length.

I should be able to do this. And I should be able to do this well.

I had no idea how emotionally overwhelming the first weeks at home would be. There were the post-delivery hormone drops, the sleep deprivation, and the breastfeeding nightmares. Add to that a general anxiety about the well-being of our newborn. Take it from me: you need your village.

But how do you ask?

Here are 7 tips on asking for help with your new baby.

1. Check your expectations

Many first-time parents assume, falsely, that parenthood is an instinctual role. As if you’ll naturally take to breastfeeding, automatically know how to soothe a fussy newborn, and ease into nurturing with the grace of a god. Like any new skill, parenting takes time and practice. Unrealistic expectations can cause stress and disappointment. I’ll never forget the advice my sister gave me in the throes of early parenthood: your to do list right now is taking care of Baby and yourself. Laundry? Not on the list. Cooking dinner. Also not on the list.

2. Line up support for the early weeks

If you happen to live near family or friends, and have good relationships with them, ask for help with your new baby. If not, work on developing an alternative community of support.

  • Do you have co-workers or neighbors you could rely on?
  • Have you connected with other expectant moms in prenatal classes?
  • Perhaps you’ll find community in a breastfeeding support group?
  • Maybe there’s even a virtual network you can connect with online.

This crew of like-minded people will become your sounding board — for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

3. Be specific about what you need

People will offer the phrase, let me know how I can help, because they are waiting for your direction. As out of character as it might feel, they will be glad to have you tell them specifically how they can help with your new baby.

  • I feel like I haven’t eaten all day. A meal and some quick snacks would be wonderful!
  • Our two-year-old is feeling cooped up. Could I trouble you to walk him to the playground?
  • I know you’re on your way over. I would adore a decaf latte.

4. Get used to saying no

Sometimes your helpers will want to visit on a day when you just want to be alone, bonding with your newborn. You’re not selfish for needing some space. I remember being in the delivery room with a lactation specialist, a pediatrician, our nurse, and my in-laws, all doing their best to be helpful. But I was overwhelmed by the number of people. Instead of being clear about my boundaries, I hid in the bathroom. The help you require will be unique to you. You are allowed to let people know, gently, when you’ve had enough.

5. Tag out from time to time

If you have a partner, give them time and space to play an active role in caring for the new baby. Not only will it give you time to rest and reenergize, but it will fuel their own confidence and bond with the baby. Remember: your partner might not intutitively know when to tag in. Practice asking for help with your new baby.

6. Get a professional on your team

Nobody enters parenthood knowing exactly what to do. The joy is wonderful, but becoming a new parent can be overwhelming. Free programs, like the Healthy Gallatin Home Visiting program, are available to help families navigate parenthood. These programs bring home visit nurses, social workers, and father engagement specialists into your home to make your life easier, from encouraging development to parenting hacks. Also consider joining Baby Bistro for a breastfeeding support group or Roots Family Collaborative for regular parenting programs.

You don’t lose parent points for accessing the services of a professional. In fact, you gain them for growing your village.