Maternity leave is the an important period in a family’s life where we welcome our babies into our homes and our lives. We nurture them in our environment conscious that it is unfamiliar and sometimes scary for them. We take the time to learn about them and to build a unique bond. Even our UK government recognises this by introducing paternity leave for fathers; 2 weeks of paid leave. In reality this is a very short period, but it does acknowledge and support the view that it is important to develop a close bond with our newborns and create an environment where they can thrive. It also provides some breathing room while, as new parents, we learn how to survive with a crying, eating, pooping newborn wholly dependant us to meet all their needs.
I decided to take around 8 months of maternity leave, full pay for the first 4.5 months and statutory maternity pay for the remaining 3.5 months. The first month was unfortunately spent trying to encourage Pumpkinella to leave the warmth and safety of my womb in favour of a brave new world where mummy and daddy were ready waiting. The last weeks were uncomfortable as most of the growing happened during this period. I wasn’t able to sleep well and needed the loo at least 5 times a night.
Once she was finally out both the real work and the real fun began.These are the top 10 things I did, which I believe set the foundation for the wonderful relationship I now have with my now 16 month old daughter. I hope that if you or someone you know is in a similar situation, this can give you some useful tips.
1. Attend post natal exercise classes where both you and baby can exercise and learn how to play with one another. It’ll get you out of the house and you may make friends with other mums in the same situation as you.
2. Talk to or better still sing to your baby whenever you can. It’ll be fascinating for your baby who is learning about their new environment at an alarmingly fast rate. Babycenter says that this can be a form of therapy for premature babies and is also soothing for all babies. I found that it helped to keep my baby blues at bay by not allowing my mind to wander too far away on difficult days.
3. Get some fresh air with your baby as often as you can. If you stay in your home for extended periods of time you will eventually get bored and your mind will wander off to unhealthy places. Even just a walk in a park or around your local area can make you feel refreshed. Babies also love the ambient noises around and it can be very soothing. The Parenting website gives you tips on how to do this safely.
4. Talk to other grown ups; pick up the phone, text, email just talk to other people. Most people don’t want to intrude on new parents and they leave them alone thinking they are giving you time to bond with your baby but what is actually happening is that you are becoming more and more isolated from your normal environment . Your anxieties as a new parent can then heighten. It’s amazing on a low day what a hug or a helping hand can do to lift the spirit.
5. Do some sort of activity with your baby regularly. I loved swimming with my daughter. We registered for term long classes where we learnt how to be comfortable in the water together. After just 2 lessons, Pumpkinella was kicking her feet, waving her arms and was happily confident in the water. Remember that the skill of swimming is an invaluable one and you could certainly continue with classes or sessions together during your weekends or spare time if you return to shift work.
6. Take on a family holiday. I know this can seem daunting but it’s actually easier than it might seem. It’s the best time in your baby’s life to go on an adventure. Your baby at this stage can adapt to change fairly well and will adapt to their new surroundings better than you might think. It will get more difficult when they become more self-aware so take the plunge and have some fun. You may not want to plan too many activities but instead just go with the flow and enjoy the time as a family.
7. Depending on how long your maternity leave is, try to get your baby eating solids and sleeping in their own room before you return to work. I followed the baby led weaning approach and it was great to be able to eat together. However the demands of my job, once I returned, meant I couldn’t keep up with making fresh meals everyday and she became a food pouch baby. She was exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, so it was very important that she be weaned (at least from breastfeeding) and be comfortable with being fed by other people irrespective of what she was being fed.
8. Finally, try your very best to get you and your baby into a good sleeping pattern. I would let my husband sleep and try to take on the night waking on my own during the 6 months I was on maternity leave. However I would often be a wreck the following day due to dehydration and sleep deprivation. You need to remember not to be a martyr but share the new responsibilities of parenthood with your partner. that way it wont be too much of a shock when you are off out to work again. There’s no magic formula for this one, everyone finds their own routine. If baby sleeps well and you both sleep well, you’ll cope better when you are back in work. I didn’t follow this advice and for the first 2 months back in work, I was a complete mess. I missed my baby and survived on 2-4 hours of sleep every night. When you baby inevitably gets ill, all the rules should go out of the window. This invariably makes it difficult to keep up a routine but is unavoidable.
9. Everyone told me to sleep when my baby was sleeping. I wish I had listened. Some days I would be so tired that I couldn’t really interact with Pumpkinella. I would feel so guilty that i would get upset. I would rush to do chores while she was asleep and not have the energy to interact with her while she was awake. If you take nothing from the rest of this post, please take this tip. Sleep whenever you get a chance. I promise it will help with your anxieties and give you the energy to enjoy your baby’s company when they are awake.
10. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy this precious and ridiculously short period with your baby. Make the most of every moment that you can. Once back at work, whether it be full or part-time, you’ll never have the luxury of that much time together with your baby. It’s a glorious and wonderful time, one I wish i;d allowed myself to enjoy more than I did.
If any of this interests or encourages you then please share it with others.