As expectant mothers, we plan the details of our baby's arrival with eager anticipation. We tour hospitals and decorate nurseries and write birth plans, and expect a simple and blissful transition into the world of motherhood. In reality, life with a new baby — especially during those early postpartum weeks — tends to be a lot more difficult than we're taught to expect.

The early weeks with baby might not be all sunshine and roses, but they can be wonderful — if you are fully prepared. Read on for important postpartum recovery tips that all moms need to know.

Taking Care of Baby (and Yourself) Is Your Top Priority

Recovering from childbirth takes time. In the early weeks, your focus should be on getting to know your new baby and getting the rest that your body needs in order to heal. Keep visitors to a minimum, and resist the urge to play hostess to those who do arrive.

If you have older children, designate a go-to person (like Daddy or Grandma) to meet their needs while you rest and recuperate with your newborn. And remember that if you're recovering from a c-section, you'll need to be even more vigilant about getting the rest you require.

Don't Feel Guilty About Asking for Help

As a new mom, you can't do it all, but you have to ask for what you need. New fathers don't necessarily know what they can do to help, and expecting them to read your mind will get you nowhere. Never feel guilty about telling others how they can help you.

  • Keep a list of household chores that need to be completed, so visitors (or Dad) will know how to help.
     
  • Hire a cleaning service or postpartum doula for a few weeks if you can afford the expense. If you can't, consider asking for a gift certificate or contribution for these services as baby gifts.
     
  • Take advantage of websites like Meal Train, where friends and family can sign up to bring you the meals you enjoy at the times you need them most.

Find a Good Support System

A good support system is crucial in the early days of motherhood. Hopefully, you have plenty of female friends and relatives who can be trusted to support your choices, but if you find yourself feeling criticized, it's time to limit contact. The postpartum period is already an emotional one, and there is no reason to surround yourself with people who make it even more difficult.

If you don't have a good built-in support system, find one. Look for online groups (great when you're awake with baby at 3 a.m.) or see if your local hospital hosts a new mom's group. If you're planning to breastfeed, be sure you know who you can trust for breastfeeding support.

Expect to Be Emotional

According to BabyCenter.com, "at least 60 to 80 percent of new mothers get the baby blues, a mild form of depression that begins a few days to a week after delivery." In other words, it is completely normal to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and exhausted. However, it is also important to know the difference between the typical baby blues and a more serious case of postpartum depression.

Learn From Other Cultures

In her book The Immigrant Advantage, journalist Claudia Kolker writes about an amazing Mexican tradition known as the cuarentana. Literally translated as a "gentle quarentine," a cuarentana is a 6-week period after birth, during which a new mother's only job is to rest and care for her baby. A female relative is always present to "mother the mother" — cooking for her, answering her questions, and even preparing her baths.

The Mexican cuarentana honors and celebrates the postpartum period, and provides new mothers with a gradual transition into the hard work of motherhood. For those of us who live in a culture where this kind of postpartum support is severely lacking, the idea sounds surreal. But having help and support during the early days of becoming a mother is something that every woman — Mexican or not — absolutely deserves.

Have you ever heard of a cuarentana? What postpartum recovery tips would you add to this list?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of "The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness, and Hope."