Like most naive new moms, I went into maternity leave envisioning how productive I would be with all my time off from “work.” I had grand plans to keep a meticulous house, never get behind on laundry, make my husband a gourmet dinner every night, schedule lunch dates with the neighborhood SAHMs, do elaborate photoshoots with the baby, take long walks with the dog, and I definitely was going to be one of those moms who fit into her pre-pregnancy clothes before heading back to work.
I thought that my experience working for a large law firm had conditioned me to work well with minimum sleep and juggle lengthy to do lists with ease. My husband even jokingly referred to it as my “vacation”– what are you going to do with all your time off he would ask me?
Did you laugh reading that? I just did. WHAT WAS I THINKING? If you are a first time mom, or any mom for that matter, take a deep breath and reset your expectations of yourself during your maternity leave. And then probably lower them again.
If I had it to do over again, here is what my to-do list should have looked like:
1. Get To Know Your Baby.
In between feeding, burping, and consoling your crying newborn, take time to enjoy and get to know your baby. Learn how your baby likes to be swaddled, or if they don’t. Learn how your baby likes to be held, what your baby’s cries mean. Oh, and also be aware that any of the above is subject to change upon no notice to you, so relax start the process over again.
2. Physically Recover.
You just gave birth to a human. Slow down. I invited my family over the first two weekends after I had our little girl to meet her and hosted Easter because I didn’t want to travel. I quickly found myself snipping at my husband and my mom because I was a tired, hormonal mess and still in a lot of pain. Give yourself some grace and take some time for yourself. That may mean saying no to all guests, or giving you baby to your husband/mother/friend so you can take a nap.
3. Mentally Adjust.
Whether this is your first baby or your fifth baby, you need to take some time to mentally adjust on how your life just changed. This might be easy for some, but with hormones, you might find it takes a little (or a lot) of time and that is okay too.
4. Accept Help.
I did not write ask for help, because no matter how many times I heard it, I was never good at asking for help. What I could do though, is accept help if it was offered to me. My mom came for two weeks after the baby was born to help with chores, the dog, and [insert literally everything]. My neighbors cooked dinner for us for a month and my friends that visited all offered to watch the baby so I could sleep or do something for myself. As a new mom, it is hard to ask for help sometimes, but know you should always accept it if it is going to make your new life easier.
5. Adjust Your Definition Of Productive.
Do you know how much babies care about to-do lists? They don’t, unless the only item on the to-do list is devote every second to me. Maybe you have an awesome little sleeper and will be able to get a lot done, or maybe like my newborn, yours might have colic and hate sleeping during the day. I had to quickly let go of what I expected myself to get done and readjust for the baby is healthy and the dog has eaten today. So make your to-do lists if it helps you stay organized, but also know that it is okay if your house stays messy or that dinner does not get cooked.
It was about two weeks in when I cried because I realized there was no end in sight to the sleepless nights. I was used to minimal sleep when working at the law firm, but I always got the glorious weekend after a deal when I would “catch up” by sleeping for 12 or 13 hours. When you have a baby, especially if you are nursing, you will need to live to survive on disrupted sleep. It is so easy to look at the pile of laundry that needs done or thank you cards that need written, but I promise the most important thing you can do if you baby is sleeping is sleep.
7. Get more baby cuddles and take more baby videos.
Our little girl has grown so quickly the last few months and looking back on most days is a blur, but I love being able to pull out my videos of her little newborn yawns.
So if you are just starting maternity leave or are just ending maternity leave, to sum it up, just enjoy your baby. The messy house can wait. When you go back to work, I promise you will not remember that pile of laundry that did not get folded or the meal that did not get made, but you will remember the sweet baby snuggles in the afternoon.