6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Maternity Leave
Maternity leave looks a little different for each parent. You may be one of the lucky few who gets paid maternity leave (get with the times, America!). You might have six weeks of unpaid maternity leave. You might be using your vacation days. Or, you might just have the knowledge that your job will be waiting for you whenever you choose to come back. Contrary to what your boss might think, your maternity leave is definitely not a vacation – or a time to do nothing but watch soaps and eat bonbons. You want your maternity leave to be a fulfilling personal time of bonding with your baby and setting your family up for success, but how? Here are some suggestions on making the most out of your maternity leave.
1. Fully Disconnect from Work
This can be a tough one, especially if you really love your job or have a demanding position. You might even choose to work all the way up until you give birth, which definitely makes it tough to suddenly have to wind down and disconnect. If possible, you may want to start your maternity leave a week ahead of your due date, so that you can do things like a last date or mini-vacation, tour daycares, visit the spa, get a pedi, get any paperwork in order, and anything else you might need to do to feel fully prepared. Don't take work calls or emails if you can help it. You can even set up an auto-responder on your work email address.
2. Sleep When the Baby Sleeps (But For Real)
This is one of the oldest and most trite sayings a parent will hear, but we promise this one is actually true. As working parents, we are used to filling our days with tasks. But during maternity leave, allow yourself to put aside emails and dishes during this short time, and actually lie down and rest each time your baby takes a nap. Your body, mind, and soul will thank you. And the emails and dishes will be there later.
3. Get Out of the House
Parenting a newborn might be more exhausting and demanding than your day job ever was – and that's exactly why you need to get yourself out of your house for a change of scenery. If you can do this once a day, awesome. At first, just step outside for some fresh air. As your body heals, you can venture out further – go shop for a nursing outfit that makes you feel good in your post-birth body, get a postnatal massage, or visit a relative.
4. Find Some Fellow New Parent Friends
Nobody should have to go through the rigors of healing from delivery and 24/7 parenthood alone. If your circle of friends and colleagues aren't already parents, they may be very supportive but won't exactly “get it” when you talk about the night wakings and the circles of milk on your shirts. Here are some suggestions on where to meet other parents in the same stage of life as you:
postnatal fitness groups
mommy & me yoga
breastfeeding support groups such as La Leche League
birth story groups
parenting support groups
postpartum mental health groups
Madison mom groups on Facebook
Can't find a group that suits you in your neighborhood? Start one!
5. Outsource the Mental Load
Your maternity leave should be a time of resting, recovering, and enjoying and bonding with your baby. Working women especially are overwhelmed with the “mental load” - the feeling of being expected to know about and be in charge of running an entire family and household, often alone, at all times. You can plan ahead to outsource as many tasks as possible during your maternity leave. This could include a house cleaner, a mother's helper, a laundry service, a meal train, a dog walker, and of course a postpartum doula to support and guide you in the unique way that you need through these early days and nights.
6. Self Care is the Best Baby Care
It’s easy to get caught up in the constant feedings, diapers, spit up, and fussing, never doing anything for yourself, but just keep in mind that ultimately the most important thing your baby needs is a parent who is alert, calm, and healthy. Catching up on sleep, eating and drinking enough, getting out of the house here and there for a bit of me-time, and maybe even talking to a postpartum wellness therapist are all wonderful things you can do for yourself to ensure that your cup is filled - and overflowing to your baby. You may even be able to squeeze in some activities or hobbies that you find personally fulfilling, such as photography, art, yoga, a fun class, or whatever you enjoy that you haven’t “had time” for.
If you have had multiple children, what advice would you give to a fellow parent preparing for their first maternity leave? Share with your advice or comments!