How to Really Enjoy Maternity Leave

Woman with newborn on chest

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In those first days after your baby is born, you are surrounded by friends and family. They may stop by to see the new baby and may even bring a covered dish that you can heat up later. Some of your visitors might even offer to run errands or do a load of laundry for you while they're there. But soon things settle down and you find yourself alone with your newborn.

When this happens, your days can start to feel extremely long and unorganized as you adjust to your new role as a mom. Plus, it's not uncommon to miss work and the life you had before having a baby—especially if you're alone all day without any adult interaction.

All of these experiences and feelings are completely normal. But knowing that doesn't make your maternity leave any easier. Consequently, it's important to build an arsenal of tools to help you make the most of your maternity leave. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Set Realistic Goals

A lot of moms have unrealistic expectations about what maternity leave will be like. For instance, they expect that they will be able to spend the time getting home projects completed or catch up on all their favorite shows while the baby sleeps. They may even think that they can complete a project for work.

But if this is your first baby, or even if it's your second or third, having a new baby takes some adjustment.

First of all, your body needs time to recover from giving birth. So one of your priorities should be taking time to rest and practice self-care. What's more, you need time to adjust to your little one's temperament, especially if your baby is colicky or has their days and nights mixed up. This may be especially challenging if you have another child vying for your time.

Consequently, it's important that you have realistic expectations about your maternity leave. In those first days, the only thing you may be able to accomplish that isn't baby-care related is getting a shower. Even your expectations about meal prep should be realistic. There will be days when you just can't cook a full meal. Hopefully, you have a partner or others who can help out.

Keep a Journal

There's a lot of time to think when you're home alone with your baby, especially when you're sitting quietly in a rocker at 2 a.m. for a feeding. You may find yourself thinking about everything from work to your dreams and aspirations for your baby. But by the time morning rolls around, those thoughts may be long gone.

For this reason, it can be rewarding to keep a journal. This way, you can quickly jot down whatever it is that you're thinking about.

You also may want to use the journal to help you process your feelings about work. Some women struggle with the transition from work to maternity leave, so it may be helpful to write those thoughts down to help you make sense of your feelings.

For instance, you may want to write down what it is you miss about work or why you're passionate about it. You also may want to write down what you think you're missing out on, as well as any worries you might have about your return.

Then, try contrasting those thoughts with what you're thankful for with regard to your maternity leave. Include things that make you happy and what you hope to get out of your time at home. Doing this exercise may help you make sense of your conflicting emotions and bring more balance to your thoughts and feelings about work.

Journaling helps you process how you're feeling about both work and motherhood.

Overall, journalling can help you release any anxiety or stress you're feeling. Never underestimate the power of the written word. Of course, if writing isn’t your thing, keep voice memos on your phone. But whatever you do, if you're feeling mixed emotions or lots of stress, find a way to release those thoughts and feelings.

Use This Time to Reflect

Before the baby, you knew a lot about yourself. Hopefully, you had a set of values and priorities you were using to base your decisions on. Now that you finally had your baby, you may feel a shift in those values and priorities. 

Suddenly, spending time with family and taking care of your newborn are your first priorities. Other values may be shifting as well. Pay attention to these changes because this shift is the root cause for feeling off-balanced. 

After all, your world has essentially been turned upside down by the entrance of a baby into your life.

Use your maternity leave to get mentally prepared before integrating your work into your new life as a mom. Write about this in your journal and talk to other parents about it, especially other working moms you know in real life or those you connect with online. Also, don't feel bad or guilty if you're looking forward to going back to work. These feelings do not make you a bad mom.

Give Yourself Baby Goals

To help you feel that sense of accomplishment that you likely experience from working, give yourself baby goals to accomplish every day. Once you hit your goal, celebrate.

For instance, tell yourself, “I’m going to shower today!” Then bring the baby into the bathroom with you, strap them in the baby swing or a bouncy seat and then take that shower. Afterwards, rejoice that there's no more spit up in your hair and you smell awesome. Treat yourself with lotion, and you’ll feel like you’re in the spa.

Before the baby, you were probably working toward something. So try to do the same thing while you're on maternity leave. Just be sure to pick small, manageable goals. You don't want to set your goals too high and have to deal with disappointment when you're unable to meet them.

Accept Your New Reality

A lot of moms set high expectations for themselves when it comes to doing laundry, keeping the house picked up, and doing their hair and makeup. But be easy on yourself. The sooner you become comfortable with the changes that having a baby brings, the happier you will be.

Instead, think about all that you are accomplishing. You are successfully learning how to care for your newborn. You're also honing your mother’s intuition to know what your baby needs.

Adapting to motherhood takes a lot of work and energy. It’ll leave very little time for anything else, including getting a shower. But that's OK.

If you feel like you’ll be judged by others because of the appearance of your home or the fact that your hair is a little greasy, don’t accept company for a while.

A new schedule will eventually come to you, so be patient while you figure things out. In no time at all, you will know when you can sneak in that shower, as well as how to manage the laundry. Remember, you will face a number of challenges and frustrations, and even more will occur when you go back to work. Being open to change is something you’ll get used to and eventually become really good at.

Learn to Live in the Moment

Now is a great time to learn what the power of now is all about. When you bring your attention to what is happening right now, there is no room for worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. There is only what is going on now, at the moment, which will most likely mean taking care of your newborn.

Because this time period goes so quickly, give yourself the luxury of enjoying each moment as it occurs.

Plus, if you're sad about going back to work, living in the moment is even more crucial. Don't let those sad feelings about the future steal your joy today. Yes, it will be tough to head back to work. But you're not going back today, so try not to think about it. Instead, focus on your baby and the firsts you are experiencing together.

For instance, take the time to stare into your baby's eyes. If they're asleep, admire their cute fingers and remember how blessed you are to have a child. Practicing thankfulness will help you appreciate the time you have with your little one.

Practicing living in the moment also will help you adjust once you go back to work. For instance, that first day back, you will have taught yourself to live in the moment and to focus on the work you have work to do. And perhaps because you have practiced living in the moment, going back to work won't be so bad after all.

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