[In Pictures: 10 Smart Ways to Improve Your Budget.]
Interactive games focus on observing babies and how they might be feeling. "Moms learn their baby's language for 'too much,' 'too little, and 'just right' amounts of stimulation, and find a way to respond to soothe and help regulate his emotions," she explains. It's important, she says, because a baby's interactions with caregivers during the first year of life deeply impact his feelings of safety, trust, and security going forward. The groups cost $75 for each 90-minute session and meet weekly.
Some cities offer free developmental workshops for new parents, says Jen Jamar, who blogs at LifeWithLevi.com. Her town, Robbinsdale, Minn., provides free in-home visits from licensed child educators to families with children under the age of one. By taking some of the local classes on child development, Jamar says, "We were able to connect with other moms and dads with children at similar developmental stages."
Sure, you can always ask your mom for help, but sometimes a trained lactation consultant can assist with more complicated challenges. "I noticed on our second night home from the hospital that my daughter was crying during and after nursing, and I could tell she was hungry. I was terrified," says Mariam Katz, 33, life coach and author of the forthcoming The Other Baby Book. At her pediatrician's recommendation, she met with a lactation consultant for about $120—the approximate cost of a month of formula feeding. One year later, she and her baby are still happily breastfeeding.
Pregnancy expert Robin Elise Weiss says moms on a budget can usually find free assistance through their local hospital or birth center after birth, or through a mother's group. You can also contact your local La Leche League or visit the dozens of websites and blogs devoted to the subject, such as kellymom.com. The federal government also offers breastfeeding support (in English and Spanish) through a hotline and free guide sponsored by the Office on Women's Health (1-800-994-9662; www.4woman.gov).
Some 20 percent of health insurance claims are handled incorrectly by carriers or health administrators, which means new parents, who are faced with bills from the birth as well as pediatrician visits, can soon find themselves drowning in paperwork. That's why Amy Keohane and Jeff Pressman of OffYourDesk.net say more than 70 percent of their clients are young families. For $65 a month, the company handles appeals, payments, and other paperwork dilemmas on behalf of their clients, who need only mail in their forms after they arrive in the mail.
Pressman and Keohane say they save the average family close to $3,000, as well as about five to 10 hours a month. (Friends and relatives can give new parents The Stork Special for $595, which includes a year's worth of services.)
Lynn Sudlow, founder of The Complete Errand, which runs errands for people in New Hampshire, says friends give new parents gift certificates for her services, since new moms and dads can find it difficult to do their routine household tasks, from getting a car inspection to arranging hotel accommodations for visitors to going to the grocery store. "Parents use me at the very beginning, when they're completely overwhelmed," she says. The hourly cost for this type of help usually ranges from $20 to $100.
Special treats for mom:
Amanda Moore, a doula based in Houston, says she advises new moms to rest and let their bodies recover by staying in bed for the first three days. Then she encourages them to develop routines, such as time for a cup of coffee, yoga, a short walk, massage, nap, or swim. "They are often completely overwhelmed, so I say, 'Let's focus on your body, how you handle stress, and what your needs are when you're feeling stressed and fatigued.'" (Moore charges clients a flat $1,200 fee, which includes prenatal support, childbirth class, and post-partum assistance; many insurance providers cover at least some of the services provided by doulas.)