Maternity leave, for many, is a once in a lifetime occurrence. It’s not just the rareness of this event that makes it special; it’s of course the fact that you just had a baby! With this event being so rare and time being what it is, there are no do-overs. There is also no “right” way to handle leaves. Having said that, after speaking to many moms who have gone back to work, there are four things that most agree should be your top priority (after helping your baby thrive).
According to moms who have gone back to work, the most important things to do during maternity leave are: be present, sleep train, travel, and take lots of photos and video. Your maternity leave, the fourth trimester, will be a blur. If these four things are important to you, take some time now to think about how you’ll work them into your days.
This is actually easier said than done. During the fourth trimester, you are going to feel all over the place. Sustaining a new life, being fully responsible for its ability to thrive is overwhelming. Seriously, this is a feat! And the time is going to go back, too quickly. Be present. Don’t spend a lot of time on social media or fretting about if you are “doing it right.” Do look at your baby, take deep breaths, and internalize the experience of these first few weeks. One thing that helped me to be present was to turn off the TV, turn on some relaxing music (Alexa, play 90s R&B), light a scented soy candle and take 10-15 deep breaths. Sometimes I could do all this holding the baby, sometimes I had to set him down, and sometimes I could hand him off. The 60 seconds it took do those four things helped to bring me back to the moment and be present with my son.
You are eventually going to go back to work, and while the 24-hour baby clock is sustainable for a few months, it’s not something you can do forever. You will need to sleep for more than 3 hours at a time if you are going to be any good to anyone other than your little one. While it’s controversial for some, sleep training was a life saver for many moms I know. The longer you wait, the harder it is. So talk to your pediatrician and figure out how soon, you can start. We started sleep training Hendrix, who was a good eater and growing quickly, at 11 weeks. That first night was the hardest part of my leave, quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve done, emotionally. It was also the best thing I did for him and us. Giving him the gift of sleep at such a young age. One thing to note, no one told me, but you REALLY should know, if you are nursing, you will also need to “sleep train” your boobs
Skipping that feeding is going to be very uncomfortable. They will get hard and full of milk, and they will leak. Try to hold off on expression until the first-morning feed. Just like it’ll take a few days for your little one to adjust, it will take a few days for your boobs to get on board. Grin and bear it; it’s worth it. Also, know that it will take a while for your mind and the rest of your body to adjust. Even once my son was sleeping 6+ hours at a time, I was waking every 2-3, in a small panic. “Why isn’t he crying?” “Is he ok?” It took me two long weeks to get past that point. If this happens to you, know you are not alone.
Get out of town! Seriously, try to plan a trip towards the end of your leave. Maybe it’s to see your parents, in-laws or a dear friend. Take advantage of this time off and go somewhere. While it seems daunting, traveling with a healthy newborn is really not that bad. They aren’t mobile yet and sleep most of the day. If you fly, they fly free on your lap, and if you drive, the car will most likely be soothing and enjoyable to them. Take advantage of this.
Take lots of photos and video
So I know in the first tip, I said to be in the moment, and yes that comes first but when you can document, document, document! This time is going to fly, your baby is going to change at a rapid pace, and you will be in a severe blur. Leave a camera out and snap away. When your little bub turns one, you’ll barely remember the first three months. This lack of memory is bittersweet. There are things you won’t want to remember (the stitches, the pain, the sleepless night) and there are things you will (that newborn smell, those tiny hands, and feet, that toothless smile), where you can document this wondrous time.
Cuddle- Ok I know this goes without saying but cuddle your babe. Appreciate how much they love it and the joy it brings you. You cannot spoil a newborn.
What will happen during your leave is just as unpredictable as what will happen during your baby’s birth. And just like your birth, whether things go according to plan or not isn’t important. What is important is that you make the most of the time you have. Create a maternity leave plan and then use it as a guide to ensure you are making the most of these precious few weeks and months.