Now that I’m back at work after maternity leave, I look back at that time can really see what the biggest challenges were during those postpartum weeks and months.
I was incredibly fortunate to have 6 months off work with my baby – it’s priceless time that I’ll never get back and that I hope I made the most of.
But it’s certainly not a holiday. Don’t expect it to be, and don’t let others think you’re on one!
Despite caring for a baby being a hugely rewarding experience, it’s also tough, testing and time consuming…
Here are some of the things many new mums find the hardest during maternity leave. Which ones can you relate to?
Trying to do too much
Many new mums have elaborate plans for their maternity leave – all the things they’ll get done at home, the renovations, new languages to learn, the scrapbooking and photography and gardening and cooking and making clothes for baby and…the list goes on. This will likely be one of the longest times you have away from work, so it’s the chance to tackle some grand projects!
…and then reality strikes. There’s a tiny baby who needs your attention and care around the clock. You’re likely suffering from postpartum pains, baby blues and the exhaustion from sleep deprivation. And there will be many days where you’ll hardly get anywhere with your todos.
What do do instead: Remember this – the health and wellbeing of you and your baby are your #1 priority. Everything else can wait. And yes, that also includes the more menial household tasks like doing the dishes or washing the clothes. Particularly in the early postpartum weeks, focus on your recovery and the needs of your little one. Set yourself small and realistic daily goals, and don’t stress if you don’t get as much done as you planned!
Counting down the days
This was more so towards the end of maternity leave, and I can imagine it’s particularly the case with women who have much shorter allocated leave times. Having the end in sight can be disheartening and you may dread your return to work. (Or, you may be looking forward to more adult conversations and mental stimulation!)
I found that I’d get to the end of a day and be disappointed with how little I managed to get done around the house, or that bub and I hadn’t managed to go on a little day trip, or that somehow, for some reason, I’d manage to waste part of one of my final days at home. The imminency of my return to work meant I was starting to put unnecessary pressure on myself to get heaps done in preparation for the end of maternity leave. Fixation on “the end” can easily distract you from focussing on what’s important here and now!
What to do instead: Focus on living in the moment. Enjoy and appreciate every day that you have at home with your little one rather than fretting over how you’ll survive without them. Also see whether you can check off these 50+ things to do with your newborn!
Counting down the minutes
…until your partner gets home from work. There were certainly days when I’d literally be watching the clock, anxious for time to pass quickly so that my husband would arrive home and I could finally have a break. All day, every day, you probably have a baby literally attached to you. Maybe your newborn will only nap in your arms, or takes forever to feed or want to be perpetually carried.
And all you want is a shower. Or a bathroom break. Or some uninterrupted breakfast.
What to do instead: Make sure you have good communication with your partner about getting the help you need! Perhaps once he’s back from work, he can look after baby for a while so you can have some “me time”. Or you can arrange to share household duties so that you’re not left with everything and caring for your baby all day long. Take a look at these other simple (but super useful) ways of getting help with your new baby.
Worrying about the return to work
Is there heaps to catch up on? Are your skills not up to scratch anymore? Are there lots of new employees that might end up taking your position? How are you going to manage organising care for your baby while you’re at work? The questions go on… but there’s no need to stress.
What to do instead: Legally, your company has to hold on to your job and role for you for a certain amount of time. And in terms of getting back up to speed with your work, the best way is to chat with your manager or boss and figure out the plans and expectations before your return. Check out these questions you should ask your boss when finishing maternity leave for some guidance. Also, whether you realise it or not, during maternity leave you’re not actually putting a hold on your skills – your organisation and prioritisation abilities are strengthening daily, as is your efficiency and persistence!
Especially in the first few weeks, your relationship with bub can feel rather one-sided! It’s not like they can provide you with stimulating conversation and exciting interactions. In fact, if your newborn isn’t feeding or crying, they’re probably sleeping!
If you don’t have a good support network of family and friends around you, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone.
What to do instead: Get out of the house (particularly with other mums) whenever possible! A great way of doing this is to join local playgroups or events. Need ideas? Check out this no-awkwardness guide to meeting other new mums.
Not knowing how you’ve spent your time
It’s an odd feeling – being lost for words when asked what you did all day, aside from caring for your baby. Like, what did I do?
Well, with pretty much your entire day being filled with feeding, changing and settling your baby on repeat, there may legitimately not have been much else that you’ve done.
And that’s okay.
What to do instead: If you’re struggling to get anything done in the times where bub is napping (and you’re not in the mood for sleeping too), a good approach is to have a simple todo list that you’ve written in the morning. Pick off an easy and achievable task to tackle in any spare moments of the day. You’ll feel surprisingly proud of yourself as you cross something off your list!
Expecting the unexpected
Hardly anything went according to plan when I got back home after having my baby. I ended up co-sleeping (planned on just using the cradle), hardly ever cooked (nightly takeout for the first few weeks) and didn’t even finish setting up the nursery (didn’t know bub’s gender so planned on waiting until after the birth…). No matter how many books you read or people you talk to, nothing can fully prepare you for what’s to come with a new little person in your life!
What to do instead: Be adaptable and trust your instincts! It’s okay to not have everything under control all the time – embrace the chaos
* * *
Notice a pattern?
Consistently, the advice often relates back to this:
Take each day as it comes, and enjoy every moment while it lasts.
There’s little to gain in stressing or worrying over things (in fact, it could actually be harmful to your little one) – so don’t be so hard on yourself, throw away any preconceived expectations of how maternity leave will turn out, and savour every second with your new baby.
How have you handled challenges during maternity leave? Share your experiences in the comments!