Happily Adjusting to Motherhood during Maternity Leave
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As I sit here watching my Baby Bear play on her play gym on the last day of my maternity leave, I am filled with overwhelming love, joy, sadness, and absolute guilt. She’s laying there happy as a lamb, punching that insipid monkey rattle right in his pompous face and giving the puppy teether a what-for; and I can’t help but wonder what will be going through her mind when someone else is sitting on this cold floor next to her cheering on the battle to the death with Mothra (also known as Freddy the Firefly). Will she miss me? Will she boycott naps, or organize a sit in? (She’s highly advanced!) Will I survive? Will I just cry so hard that my eyes fall out? Even worse, will I enjoy it? Will I be happy to go back to work and leave her in the hands of another? Am I a bad mother? So many things speeding through my brain some thoughts rational, some of them completely asinine! I take a moment to look back on the last three and a half months.
Baby bear was two weeks past due, and the last two weeks of my pregnancy I worked tirelessly preparing our home for a new edition, doing ALL the old-wives tales to induce labor, and managing my own anxiety related to labor and caring for a newborn. I spent my last night before the hospital walking the steps, eating steak, and hyperventilating intermittently between sobs wondering if I was doing something wrong, or right, that this baby refused to come to meet us! Then there was the labor and the hospital stay (which we will discuss in a different post!). Then we were home, with this tiny, completely dependent, beautiful little blob of a person. Papa Bear and I spent three weeks together learning how to care for a newborn, how to perfect the perfect swaddle and losing our voice SHUSHing this little girl to sleep. Then I was alone (luckily only 3 days a week), to create my own routine. I was so nervous, but eventually I fell into my own routine, and after a week or so, I LOVED IT.
How, you ask? Well here’s my advice to ENJOY your maternity:
It is so easy to forget about yourself during this time. You have no idea how GLAMOROUS a shower can feel until your beautiful little angel has vomited in your bra four times (true story, thanks baby bear!). There were weeks where I may have only showered 2 or 3 times, and by the end I had a routine and was showering MOST days, and it made a WORLD of difference. TIP: If you’re home alone and you need a shower, put baby in a rocker/bouncer and bring them into the bathroom with you. Keep the shower curtain open slightly so you can keep an eye on them. PRO TIP: The sound of the shower will most likely put baby to sleep giving you extra time to relax!
Caring for a baby is hard work, and your body needs energy. If you are breastfeeding, it is ESSENTIAL to eat; you don’t realize how helpful it is for your milk supply. TIP: Oatmeal and lots of water have been really helpful for increasing my supply. Make sure you fill your house with foods that make you feel good and you truly enjoy. You spent 10 months missing SOMETHING (most likely demanding it be delivered to your labor and delivery room so you could shove it in your face while baby is doing skin to skin THANKS MOM!). Now is the time to eat it! For me it was lunch meat. I had so many sandwiches the first few weeks of maternity leave it was borderline embarrassing! TIP: Have your cabinets filled with prepared or easy to cook foods so you don’t have to do much work. PRO-TIP: Before you have baby, prepare about a week or two worth of freezer meals, or dump meals so you don’t need to scramble for dinners every day once you get home. Slow cookers are amazing inventions; we were able to have home cooked meals without any of the work as soon as we got home!
Have (but limit) visitors
Everyone will want to come visit your baby; it will be overwhelming and sometimes annoying. Prior to baby, everyone doted on YOU and wanted to see YOU. Now, people only care about baby, and you’re just a warm body that sustains baby’s existence. You spent 10 months (10 months and two weeks for some) waiting for this glorious little gift; you DO NOT need to share as much as people want you to. Your maternity leave is to develop a strong and lifelong bond with your little baby bear, use it! If people are making you feel pressured or guilty for not having them over to meet the baby, they probably aren’t the ones that should be coming over during this very short and important time. Have people over who love you AND your baby. People who will ask you about you, offer support, and respect your time as a new mom, or even better as new parents. One of my oldest friends came for a visit right before the holidays and spent almost the whole day with me while Papa Bear was at work, and I don’t event remember if she held baby bear. It felt amazing to have a friend just spend time with ME and talk about anything that wasn’t poop or breast milk. TIP: If you are breastfeeding, make sure you plan visits around your feeding schedule, that way you can limit visits for your comfort. PRO-TIP: if you feel comfortable breast-feeding in front of them, THOSE are the people you want over.
Let Papa Bear (OR your Significant Other) be a Father (or Care giver)
There is a huge difference in my opinion between a “dad” and a father, and you are a huge part of helping him become, and feel like a father. Your partner has been waiting just as long as you have for this baby, and has seen you go through so much pain and hard work to get to where you are. They want to feel what you feel when you hold that baby. The love you will feel when he (or she) cares for that baby will overflow your heart. Let Papa Bear do skin to skin, tummy time, bath time, and diaper changes too! Daddy baby time, is just as important as Mommy baby time, and it gives you time to just be you and relax those arms! PRO-TIP: Whenever possible, do these things together. If you are able to support each other in changing an explosive diaper at 4am together while cooing and loving your baby and gently stroking your love one’s back, you’re doing something right.
Cuddle. Cuddle. And cuddle some more.
Hold your baby, love your baby, snuggle your baby, because in a few short weeks, you will return to work, and in a few short months, baby will be mobile and harder to keep still for snuggle time! Of course, give your baby time to reach developmental milestones by doing tummy time, and playing on their back; but if you have the opportunity to snuggle, do it. You will miss it more than you can ever imagine. There will be a time when baby will be walking and crawling, and that will be so exciting; but for now, they are little balls of sweet smelling love, soak it up. My cuddle time on the couch with baby during maternity leave while she was sleeping or just hanging out made me feel so close and bonded with her, and gets me through those long difficult days!
Babies. Sleep. A lot. Don’t spend all the time baby sleeps cleaning or doing chores. Relax. You’ve worked hard, you deserve the next three months to enjoy baby, and catch up on TV, movies, a hobby, or books. As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a majority of nap time/cuddle time re-watching Gilmore girls; however, there were other things I did too! For starters, I begin my blogging journey (you’re welcome world!). Secondly, I colored….ALOT, adult coloring books are ah-may-zing! . There were many days that even watching TV seemed overwhelming to me. So I colored. I was able to MAKE something creative, it felt good to do something productive. TIP: Coloring can be meditative, when you are coloring, try to focus only on staying with-in the lines. Focus on the marker in your hand and how it feels on the paper. Breathe slowly, and let yourself focus on the lines and not your worries or responsibilities (Except baby, if baby cries, STOP COLORING and pay attention to baby! Then totally go back and get all meditative with your bad self!).
Have a healthy vice.
Coffee. My vice was a cup of coffee in the morning, and it was one of my most relaxing parts of my day with baby. We woke up, we cleaned the booty, put a new diapie, ate some boob, snuggled, and then baby bear usually took a nap. During nap-time, I would make myself an egg sandwich and a Carmel latte. (Baby Bear was born close to the holidays, so for my Christmas present to myself, I purchased this little baby and made latte’s my new art form!). After I ate my sandwich, I relaxed and cuddled baby while I finished my cup of coffee to start my day. For me, it helped me ground myself and feel connected and energized enough to get through the rest of the day! For you, it may be chocolate, or candles, or even a glass of wine, find what works for you, and USE IT! PRO-TIP: if you are breastfeeding, educate yourself. You CAN have coffee, and you CAN have a glass of wine. Hop on over to kellymom.com and read her articles about lifestyle choices and breastfeeding.
You will not clean your entire house. You will not bake muffins every morning. Your significant other will not be as helpful as you dream. You will not shower, and go for a jog with that fancy jogging stroller every day. You will not “sleep when baby sleeps.” And all the posts you read about “letting people help” by running the vacuum or doing your laundry…it doesn’t happen, don’t expect it. No one really talks about it, but I think most women have this grandiose, master plan in their mind that while they are on maternity leave, they will conquer motherhood early, and will be able to do everything and become supermom in like 4 days flat. It’s crap. Stop setting yourself up for failure! Lets be real, no one comes to your house to clean for you…they are coming to see the baby. You will clean your house. Eventually. Don’t push yourself now, its your and baby’s time to bond, the cleaning can wait. You will be tired, and of course if your baby is happily asleep and you can get a few nods in there, do it. But honestly, you will really enjoy the adult time, even if you’re just sitting in the bathroom in silence scrolling through Pinterest. If you go jogging every day, more power to you, I’m not your biggest fan, but more power to you. Exercise will come, but ease into it. Don’t shock your body and make yourself sore, caring for a screaming baby AND screaming muscles is no fun at all. Finally, buy the damn muffins! There is no need to try to be Betty Freakin’ Crocker on week 3 of maternity leave. TIP: If you are a breastfeeding mom, let go of the expectation of help from your significant other on the overnights. He/she cannot feed the baby, only you can, and holding resentment for them while they sleep isn’t going to help your relationship. Tell them what you need, and how they can help. If it’s changing baby, or getting baby from the bassinet, then fine. For me, the most helpful thing for me was letting me sleep in the morning. Baby Bear ate A LOT at night and throughout the night, but slept most of the morning. So, Papa bear would be on watch. He had a good night sleep and could be on point to re-swaddle, cuddle, shush, or pacify as needed, so I could get a few solid hours of rest before he left for work.
Join a support group
I know, I know. SURPRISE! The therapist is telling you to join a support group, isn’t this shocking! But to be realistic, as a therapist I despise groups. While, I see their value, and recognize they are extremely helpful for many people; I personally hate running them or taking part in them. So, that being said, I joined an ONLINE support group, which I found to be surprisingly helpful. As a first time mom, EVERYTHING, was new and scary. I had so many questions, baby bear made a new sound and I wasn’t sure if it was normal. She threw up frequently, is that ok? What’s the difference between normal baby poop and diarrhea? Should I call the pediatrician and ask at 4am? Nope, ask the 1k plus moms on the Facebook group who are also up changing diapers and cleaning spit up. I can’t tell you how many hours of sleep I gained by being able to ask like-minded women with usually more experience than myself if something was normal or not. I learned how to increase milk supply, how to deal with reflux, and the difference between an allergic reaction and diaper rash, all usually at 4am when my brain was exhausted and the anxiety had taken over! There are plenty of online Facebook groups that you can join as a new mom, not to mention the support groups your local hospital, lactation consultant, or mental health facility may provide. (IF ANY OF YOU MM&Ms ladies are reading, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for your help those first few month’s; your solidarity and advice have been immeasurable.)
Do activities with baby!
While cuddling and nap-time are amazing, all the other baby stuff is just as cool! Read with baby! Make silly voices; put on a show and tell a fantastic story! Our favorite book to read for fun was Giraffes Can’t Dance. Do Tummy Time. Lay out a mat or a blanket on your floor and lay with baby. Talk with them, encourage them, and give them praise for their hard work! That head is ENORMOUS and super heavy; lifting is a great feat, and cause for celebration! TIP: paint with baby during Tummy time! Put a few drops of paint on paper, put the paper in a large zip-lock bag (make sure its closed!), and put it under baby during tummy time. Their adorable thrashing and grabbing will make a beautiful work of art that you can hang on your wall at work (if your lucky enough to have a cubicle or office), and make your first few weeks after maternity leave a little brighter and colorful. I promise, it’ll be a great memory to have. PRO-TIP: If you’re lucky enough to have fur kids, tummy time is an excellent time for you to help baby and fur baby develop a relationship. Baby will be on their level, in a safe environment, and you will be closely watching to monitor their bonding time. Boogie Bear loved laying on the carpet next to Baby Bear’s play gym while we did tummy time, and Koby (one of our family cat’s) actually laid NEXT to baby bear on said play gym!
(sorry I really wanted this to be a top 10 list to accommodate those OCDers out there who like even numbers like myself, but this last one is super important!)
Pictures are great, and we always think to take pictures since our phones are so easily accessible. However, your videos will be priceless. Things baby did in the very beginning will quickly fade, and they will grow to do really adorable other things; but you will desperately miss the sounds they made when they were first home from the hospital. I’m not kidding; make sure you have short videos of as much stuff as possible! My baby bear made this sound in the very beginning when she was hungry that made me melt inside, but she only made this sound for about three weeks. I was lucky enough to catch it on video, and every now and again I go back and watch it just to hear that sound. I’m tearing up even as I write this. You will not remember everything; it’s sad, but true. Try to take videos to help you preserve these memories, you will be grateful when they are teenagers and want nothing to do with you.
Remember: Maternity leave is short, and oh so important. Baby needs you, and loves you, spend it doing things you enjoy with your little one. Other than your significant other, there is no reason (unless you want) to share it with anyone else. Never feel guilty for that. If you find yourself struggling throughout the day, or weeks, check in with yourself to find out what you need to make this more enjoyable, and ask for it. Make it happen. You will not get this time back, and you should remember it fondly. I know I do, and I truly hope the same for you!
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