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Top 10 things to do during your maternity leave

Summer is always a special time for me the way January is for some.  For the past four years, it has marked the anniversary of the end of one stage of motherhood (maternity leave) and the beginning of another (working motherhood).  As another June rolls around and we welcome summer, I am reminded how it has been 12 months since I reintegrated into the workforce after my second maternity leave.  With two maternity leaves under my belt, I have put together a list of things I have been advising my friends to do during their leaves.  I hope you will find them helpful!

  1. Rest and allow yourself to be a patient.  I remember with my first son, I wanted to feel "normal" again - whatever that was.  As soon as I returned home from the hospital, I wanted to be up and about loading the dishwasher, running loads of laundry, etc. in addition to taking care of our new baby and myself.  It didn't sink in until my baby was 3 weeks old that "slow" was my new normal and that was fine.  By allowing myself to be patient, I let my husband and baby have their own bonding time during night time feedings and took care of myself which expedited my recovery.  Don't get me wrong, it was still tough to be showered, dressed and have breakfast by 8am, but I was going more for completion of tasks, rather than specific deadlines.
  2. Make plans even if you have to cancel them.  Once you're comfortable in your new role as a mom, start to make plans for yourself.  I found that making plans like making a grocery run, going on a walk or meeting up with friends helped me distinguish the days of the week.  It also gave me something to look forward to and gave me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day - beyond my other KPIs (key performance indicators) of diapers changed, nursing sessions and outfits with spit up.
  3. Join a new moms group.  This one is up there with taking care of yourself.  With my first, I was lucky to work at a company where there was this secret motherhood sisterhood which you could use for advice on gear, daycares, sitters, etc.  One of the things I was told by many colleagues who had gone before me was that their mom group was the best thing they could have done.  The class was 8 weeks long and a group of new moms and their babies would show up every week for two hours.  We'd talk about our weeks, the challenges we'd faced and gave each other tips.  We also met informally once a week for coffee and babies.  Joining this group broke my week down and it guaranteed adult interaction and conversation two times a week.  Plus, I got to meet some wonderful women and their babies.  Four years on, we still ask each other questions every now and then.  
  4. Give yourself permission to change up your plans at the last minute.  There were days when I would plan a Target run or a morning stroll and fate had other plans for me.  Either S would have a major blowout situation or he would refuse to nap at the right time.  On those days when the act of getting out of the house seemed like a challenge unto itself, I learned to accept that in parenthood, you need to go at your child's pace.  This was probably my biggest lesson in patience and it was reinforced the second time around.  My attitude became one of planning and then reassessing at the last minute based on new information.  The sooner I accepted this new mode of accomplishing things, the better I learned to roll with the punches.
  5. Do things not just because they're good for your baby, but also because they are good for you.  Both my boys were heavily exposed to Friends re-runs in the background as I nursed them or got ready in the morning.  For a while, my oldest would get giddy whenever he heard the show's theme song.  On mornings when I felt like knowing what was going on in the world, they would hear economics and business podcasts or the news.  Hearing language beyond our usual cutesy interaction was probably good for both boys, but it was also good and important for me.  
  6. Fully own and rejoice in the fact that you are on maternity leave.  There will be a day when you must head back to work or when your child will be off to daycare or preschool.  These days are fleeting and full of wonderful moments, but you must be observant enough to catch them.  Enjoy an extra morning cuddle or two.  Enjoy being someone else's everything. 
  7. Take a trip!  With my first maternity leave, we took a trip to Boston and New York to visit family.  Packing for it was a bit daunting, but it was so nice to have a change of scenery for a few days and get a little out of our routine.  My friend Gill, founder of the Dribble app, and her family took advantage of the generous maternity leave policy in the UK and spent some time in Canada visiting relatives for a month.  
  8. Listen to audiobooks.  I did this more with my second baby, but listening to audiobooks made some of the middle-of-the-night feedings a little easier the second time around.  Even though I was tired, the books I chose were engaging and that helped me stay alert during that 3am wake up.  I'd also like to think that all that language exposure was good for my son :)
  9. Do what works for you.  This applies to parenting styles, gear, and everything in between.  Test and learn is not just a lean start up methodology.  It is a way of life when you're a parent.  What works for some may not work for you and that's ok.  During my first maternity leave, I worried about having the right crib, the right stroller, even the right diaper bag.  Everything had to be perfect!  When L joined our family, I had to remind myself that while S liked to nurse while I watched TV, L would get distracted.  So, I switched to audiobooks.  Children have a way of keeping us on our toes.
  10. Relax!  If you're going back to work, this will most likely be the longest uninterrupted period of time you'll spend with your baby.  Learn to enjoy it for what it is and try to let go of the small stuff.  If you're a second time mom, take in the time to savor the interactions between your older child and the baby.  Those tender moments are only there once.  Eventually, your baby will sleep through the night, your older child will find a way to entertain himself, and you'll find time for yourself.  It just takes time.

Photo credit: Yamilla Yipp Photography.

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