Maternity Leave Survival Skills: Tips for New Moms to Stay Sane and Enjoy Motherhood
Maternity leave is the first time in many women's professional lives that they are not working for an extended period of time. On the surface, this sounds completely awesome: Three months of vacation…score! But in reality, a woman on maternity leave will probably be facing tougher challenges than ever before … and on a lot less sleep.
As a first-time mom, my expectations for maternity leave were askew. I was completely unprepared for some of the traps of maternity leave. The isolation and lack of human contact… The overwhelming sleep deprivation … A new found addiction to the Young & the Restless spoilers. If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently.
Following are my tips for staying sane and enjoying time off of work with your new baby.
Make a point to get dressed every day.
PJs and slippers are a great comfort when you’re taking a sick day. But you shouldn't treat raising an infant as if it were a sick day. You will be busy, engaged, and involved in the early development of a child who is absorbing everything in the world around him or her, including bonding with you.
I’m not saying your baby is going to go all Stacy London and Clinton Kelly on you -- “Mother dear, those sweatpants make your butt look huuuuuuge” -- but for your own sanity, put on some real clothes. It will improve your mood and make you feel more mentally prepared to deal with the events and challenges of the day ahead.
Get out of the house at least once a day.
This isn’t only for your sake, but for your child’s sake as well. It’s not healthy to stay cooped up all the time like a caged bird. Let yourself fly free.
Take your baby for a walk every now and then (it will also help take off those pregnancy pounds). Or meet a friend for lunch and show off your new bundle of joy. No matter what you and your friend talk about, it will feel like rocket science compared to the usual, “Who wants a bottie of milky? I have it here my little cutie patooti pie.”
Don’t set up too many expectations.
Before maternity leave, I was convinced three months was enough time to start my own business, write a book, paint my bedroom, plant a vegetable garden, learn to knit, take up Pilates, organize my closet, rip out the carpet, install Pergo, etc. etc. etc.
I never really considered:
- I would be raising a small human being.
- I would be so exhausted and sleep deprived that the insides of my eyelids would become the most beautiful site in the whole wide world.
About two months in I felt like a bit of a failure. I hadn't accomplished any of the above. Then it dawned on me. Hello! You are setting the foundation for a completely new-to-this-universe, tiny human being. Cut yourself a break.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
From preparing healthy meals to effective grocery shopping to changing dirty diapers, there is no shame in asking for help. In fact, I have always believed that admitting you need help is a sign of strength. And why wouldn't you need help? You are over-tired, over-stimulated and likely a bit overwhelmed. Motherhood is a new challenge, and it's natural to feel a bit of stress.
Ask your significant other, your friends or a family member for whatever help you might need. I am willing to bet that anyone who cares about you will be will be thrilled to step in and lend a hand.
Find a reliable babysitter.
If you have a reliable friend or family member who you trust as a babysitter (grandmas are a particularly good choice), make a point to get away at least once a week and go out on a date with your significant other or simply enjoy some me-time. Go shopping, get a mani-pedi or (even better) take a nap. Yes you will miss your baby like crazy. Yes you will worry non stop. But it is good for you to take a break from being a mommy every now and again.
And speaking of naps ...
Nap when your baby naps.
Everyone will tell you to nap when your baby naps. You mother. Your doctor. The grocery store checker. The butcher. The baker. The candlestick maker ...
You will smile and nod. Then you will proceed to clean the kitchen, cook dinner, straighten your hair … anything but sleep.
Do yourself a favor, and listen to the wisdom of others. Having a baby takes a huge toll on your body. It can be physically and mentally exhausting. So take a nap when your baby naps, especially early on.
Eventually (like 18 years from now) you won’t feel like a zombie anymore. Then you can straighten your hair.
Preparing for maternity leave
The months will fly by! Don't wait until the last minute to make plans for your time off.
Check with your company’s HR department early on to see what’s available in terms of pay: PTO/Vacation days, short term disability, etc.
Read up on the Family Medical Leave Act.
A note on postpartum depression
Postpartum depression is not a sign of weakness. It is a legitimate medical condition. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced libido, crying episodes, anxiety and irritability. If you think you might be suffering from postpartum depression talk to your doctor immediately. Click here for more information.
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