The first few days and weeks postpartum are challenging. Not only are you resting and recovering from the massive feat of bringing a baby into the world (and shoving, cajoling, coaxing, or gliding it out of your body) — but you’re also transforming in your relationships and suddenly need to ask for help.

I find that communicating clearly to others and setting good boundaries during this period can be quite hard. How do you communicate to those around you what you need and want? How do you tell them how to help, and when it’s too much?

In this post I want to share a strategy I love for preparing for your postpartum period: writing out to-do lists for other people ahead of time.

And even if you’re not having kids, or you’re already a parent to older children, this strategy of externalizing your needs can be helpful for everyone. They’re what I like to refer to as the “Here’s how to take care of me,” documentation, and it’s always worthwhile to write this down, even if just for yourself.

List #1: House Rules, or “What To Expect”

You’re always teaching someone something.

When people walk into your house, do they know what to expect? Most of our communication around boundaries and edges are non-verbal; the cues and signs of shoes by the front door, or the lighting on the wall, or the coat rack give us expectations about what to do.

For a new mama, however, you may have zero energy to verbalize what the rules are when a newborn is in the house.

So write them down beforehand. Here’s a list I love having on the front door of the house, before anyone walks in. (Or, if you’re in a public place, just inside the front door somewhere obvious.)

What To Expect 

Hey friends and family! So glad you’re here! Even if I look super bright and energetic when you walk in, don’t be fooled: we probably haven’t slept in days. Here are a few tips for making your visit a good one:

  • Wash your hands: This kiddo is brand-new and needs to be protected from germs for the first few months.
  • Short-and-sweet: please stay for only 15-30 minutes. We only get a small window of time to sleep in these early days, and we get tired really fast.
  • Got food? Listen, I’m starving. You can always bring me food. Thank you in advance!
  • Extra hands? We always need help with things, so I wrote a list on the fridge of chores that are easy and super helpful.
  • At some point I may need to just stop and lie down. I wish I had a fancy hand signal for you, but I may just need to say “Okay, I have to go lie down now,” and escape to the bedroom.
  • Thank you SO MUCH and I love that you’re here.

List #2: Ways You Can Help

Pick your top three ways for people to help, write it down, and put it on your fridge. Include instructions. People LOVE helping but when they don’t know what or how to help, it’s really hard for someone to take the initiative.

For me, what I wanted and craved most in the newborn period was someone maternal coming in and being a little bossy and pushing us around and saying, “get back in bed, I’m just gonna load your dishwasher, and the laundry is done,” and then whisking away, but other people can sometimes feel like they’re intruding. (Friends: you’re not intruding if you insist, lovingly, on helping). So pick your top three, like laundry, dishes, grocery run, or letting you shower, and write it down on a list with clear instructions for how to do it.

As an example:

  • Laundry help! Soap is in the cabinet above the sink, laundry card is in the side drawer. Laundry is in the basement and everything gets washed cold and dried on regular. Throw a load in at the start of your visit and set a timer and we can change it when you’re heading out!

List #3: Favorite Foods / Least Favorite Foods

Here’s the other list I love having on the fridge: great ways to feed the mama. Everyone obsesses over the new baby and forgets that the parents are probably hungry-hangry! People want to know how to help and what makes you happy. So write a list called ‘Mamas Favorite Foods” and put what you like on the list. You can also list a few of your least favorite foods so people know.

Like so:

Mama’s Favorite Foods

  • Mama loves: egg casseroles, fresh veggies, cooked veggies, and anything beef.
  • Not a fan of: pasta, onions, or anything extra spicy.

Make a short and sweet list of easy to make or order things. Include a way to send gift cards.

Your job is hard, and it’s also hard for people to know how to help you.

The best advice I have is to set boundaries clearly, and if it’s possible, do it in advance. These lists are tools for you to externalize your brain and set boundaries, so in the bleary-crying early days, you don’t have to form words or sentences, you can just point to a list.

When someone says, “How can I help?” You can say, “Lists on the fridge!”