By Elizabeth MacDonald
For some people, the moment their child is born, a timer starts ticking. There is the return to work that will be on the back of their minds at all times; an unavoidable countdown. It can be hard to let go of the looming feeling and emotions that can weigh a new parent down. Spending the first few months of parenthood dreading the return to work can affect bonding time with your child, which is so important. Instead of focusing on the negative, try keeping a positive outlook in order to have the greatest maternity leave possible. If you are wondering just how to make the most out of your leave time, it’s all about preparation and mindset.
Prepare For Baby Ahead of Time
If you wait to get your ducks in a row until after baby is born, you will spend your precious maternity leave days washing clothes, organizing your diaper bag, and so on. (Caveat: parenting is actually one big continual game of getting ducks in a row, ducks falling out, putting ducks back -- repeat.) Take the time during end of pregnancy to find a few mommy-groups, read books, and learn how to use your baby wrap so that it’s not such a struggle after baby arrives. Even if you decide not to attend any play dates or classes, having the option is nice and can provide needed support in the fragile postpartum period. Attending a few before baby comes will give you the chance to make friends and feel out the atmosphere of the group. Take the time also to make your house set up for easy parenting -- fill a few baskets with diapers, wipes, clothing changes, etc. and place them throughout the house.
Plan Your Maternity Leave Before It Begins
During your pregnancy (ideally sometime in the second trimester), talk in detail with your boss or HR about your maternity leave options. Can you transition back to work through part-time or work-from-home hours? What is the maximum amount of time off you can take? These are all questions that need answered well before maternity leave begins. If you are able to do so, consider spending a few months during pregnancy living (mostly or completely) off of your partner’s salary, stowing away the money you make to use during your maternity leave, which is especially helpful for an unpaid maternity leave. Doing this will give you more confidence in taking your time returning to work, and possibly allow you to change your mind about going back to work, if desired.
Join A Breastfeeding Support Group
Establishing a strong breastfeeding relationship is key to being able to continue breastfeeding after going back to work. Nursing baby on demand while home is ideal; best evidence supports not putting your baby on a feeding schedule. You can start pumping and building your freezer stash of milk early so that you feel less rushed in the final week or so before returning to work. La Leche League groups and hospital breastfeeding support groups can be found all over the country and provide answers to all of your nursing questions. Always ask for help before giving up.
Let friends and family cook, clean, and shop for you throughout the first month or so of parenthood. The saying, "it takes a village" isn't just for raising children, but for raising parents as well. Let the village help. If you have not found your village by the time you give birth, hire help when possible. A house cleaner, meal service, laundry service, and postpartum doula may serve an invaluable purpose for 4-8 weeks.
Get Fresh Air Every Day
Vitamin D is great for your mood and your baby’s health. The "sunshine vitamin" is easy to get, requires little thought, and goes a long way, so soak it in. Also, walking every day will promote healthy blood flow, jump start the body to getting back in shape and feeling good, and allow some space for your mind to enjoy the moment.
Snuggle That Baby; Everything Else Can Wait
Babies don’t spoil! Hold her as much as you wish and let go of the rest of the world. Doing so will allow you to learn your baby’s cues, patterns, and needs. You can nap with her and read to her; you can even shower or bathe with her (many parents find bathing easier and more enjoyable when holding a slippery baby). This time goes by so quickly; you'll appreciate looking back and feeling like you spent as much time as was possible snuggling your baby.
Reality means that you will be cooking, cleaning, running errands, and returning to the real world after 2-3 weeks. This means that you will need your arms. But it doesn’t mean that you need to put your baby down! There are amazing, ergonomically designed baby carriers on the market. Take the time to learn how to safely wear your baby and then enjoy your life, hands-free!
Get Your Hair Done
Every mother loses herself in the first few months. It’s a wonderful place to be lost, but before you return to work, take an afternoon for yourself. Perhaps your roots need touched up, or your toes need painted. Maybe you just need a glass of wine and a moment to breathe before walking into your office again (though maybe the glass of wine should come the night before you return instead of the morning of, just sayin'). You have every right tothese moments, so take them.
Do a Trial Childcare Run
Toward the end of your leave, let your baby become familiar with his childcare provider/facility. There is nothing harder than letting go of your baby for the first time, and then walking away. By doing a few trial run hours here and there, your mind will be eased when the time comes to leave her for an extended period of time.
Remember that you are not alone in this journey. Most of the feelings you experience are familiar to so many other parents. It pays to reach out and talk to others who have been there or are going through this too.
About the Author
Elizabeth MacDonald is a researcher, author, and content writer for My Baby’s Heartbeat Bear, a brand that makes adorable stuffed animals to preserve your baby’s heartbeat. She spends her days as the ringleader of a never-tiring circus; one full of tightrope walkers, Nerf gun shooters, mess makers, and danger-seekers. Elizabeth is currently expecting baby #5 and homeschooling the rest of her tribe. She exists on toddler kisses, caffeine, and tears of (panic) happiness.