I was reading a blog post by a blogger called Kate Gregory the other day. She was musing over 8 things she would like to go back and tell herself as a new Mum. It chimed with me not only because I would want to tell my February-self similar things, but also because as my Maternity Leave starts to reach it’s end, I am reflecting on what I have done with my time and what I wish I’d done more / less of. So with that in mind, here are my top 9 things everyone should do with Maternity Leave.
- Enjoy every last minute before your baby arrives: It’s inevitable you’ll be excited to meet your baby, but that time after finishing work before your little one makes their entrance only happens once. Use the time to do all the things you most feel like doing (if your body allows!). If you have another child then time will already be limited, but use whatever time you can grasp whilst also spending a bit of quality time with them before their new sibling demands your time.
- Take as much Maternity Leave as you’re able to: Everyone’s circumstances are different so I shan’t make any recommendation on how long. But once your baby arrives they will grow and change incredibly fast so you won’t want to miss things. It also takes time to ‘find yourself’ again so having that period of time to adjust really helps. I’m fortunate enough to have been able to take a year and I am genuinely shocked that in two months to the day I will be back at work!
- Go walking every day as soon as you can: Walking is a great way to get moving again as soon as you are physically able after birth. It gets some much needed fresh air for you both, with the added benefit that newborns almost always fall asleep being walked around! As time goes on you can also get a kick out of seeing your stamina improve as you managed to walk further and faster. Whilst older babies don’t tend to fall asleep on a walk unless they are really overtired it does tend to keep them quiet and distracted, especially on days where nothing makes them happy!
- Get back out in the real world within a couple of weeks: It’s really easy to get stuck in a little home bubble. Sure there are often medical reasons why leaving the house isn’t possible. But for most mothers, being driven to town for a quick cuppa and cake is do-able after a couple of weeks. I had a nasty stomach bug a week after H was born and was struggling to eat on top of being fatigued. I had no desire to move. But with Sam about to go back to work my Dad insisted we go out for a quick lunch and it really helped break any fear I had of taking H out on my own.
- Don’t feel guilty for just looking after your baby: I would look at house work piling-up and feel terrible. The mess upset me and I felt bad that Sam felt compelled to sort it all when he got home. Being in the house all day my mind told me I should be doing things when I was just sitting around. Except I wasn’t just sitting around – caring for H was, and still is, my job. As Kate mentions in her blog (point 2):
- Feed your baby in public with confidence and pride (even if you’re just faking it!): I can’t tell you how bored I am of hearing about Breast-Feeding vs. Bottle-Feeding in the news. I can’t tell you how angry it makes me that women are still asked to not breast-feed their baby in public, or to cover up, only for another mother across the room to be chastised for using a bottle in place of the breast. However you choose, or have to, feed your baby is your business only. Full stop. End of story. Nobody has the right to tell you otherwise. But knowing they might makes some feel anxious. I’ll admit I was one of them. But I just gritted me teeth and got on with it, screaming fits and unplanned ‘exposures’ and all. If you act confident and comfortable then most people will believe you are confident and comfortable.
- Go and socialise: Once you succeeded in no. 3, find some baby groups to go to; My friends have been so important to me they featured as points 5 and 6 in my blog post Three months with a new baby: 8 things I couldn’t have lived without. Whilst the conversation will inevitably be about babies (“How often is your baby feeding?”, “How long do they sleep at night?”, “What kind of nappies is yours doing at the moment?” – yep all that thrilling stuff!) it means your baby learns to socialise, is distracted and amused by other babies and adults and also means that you get some adult contact. There is also the further benefit that you often realise you aren’t alone in being exhausted or for going insane at the continual singing / clapping / playing.
- Make sure you regularly have some ‘you’ time: There is always something to do when you have a baby. So it’s very easy to prioritise your family and house above yourself. But it’s really important to make sure you have some time to yourself occasionally, even if it’s just once a week. After all, pre-baby you didn’t work all waking hours did you? So let your other-half, parent, sibling or friend look after the little one for an hour and go for a walk on your own, go to the shops and grab a piece of cake or run a nice hot bubble bath and just focus on yourself for an hour!
- Embrace (or at least accept) where you are right now: It’s really easy, especially in the earlier months when everything is so different, to start missing your pre-baby life. You long for adult conversation, being able to just go out when you want looking clean and smart. Some of you, like me, might even miss work. But time goes quicker than you realise and however long you take for Maternity Leave will be gone in a flash. So try to enjoy where you are now and remember that work will seem less appealing when you have to go back!
On a recent visit to my office in Victoria, we walked the 3+ miles back through all of London and one of us had a nap…
“You sitting there, on that sofa, with the baby on your chest, is ‘something useful’.!
H and I during the early days. I could barely move my arm to take this!
What do you think are ‘must dos’ for Mums on Maternity Leave? (Or Dad’s on Paternity Leave of course!)