If you are fortunate to live in a country that offers paid maternity leave for new moms, then you are part of a lucky few. We know first hand the toll that pregnancy and childbirth can have on our health, physically and mentally. It takes time to recover fully and to adapt to having a new little person in our care. Maternity leave truly is a blessing, but it does come with its challenges. It is just you and your infant child, every day, all day, for the next few months. If you are used to living an active and social life, this massive shift might leave you feeling isolated and as though you are living some version of the movie Groundhog Day. I remember when my partner would return home and ask, “so, what did you do today?” I would stare at him blankly, feeling like I had accomplished nothing except keeping the baby alive. Every day feels the same, and it is easy to get swallowed up by thoughts like, “Oh my god, this is my life now.” But do not despair. Here are a few self-care tips and habits to help you get out of the mat leave bog.
Have a (small) routine for yourself
It’s so easy to get lost in a time warp when you are on mat leave. It can help to have a small, achievable routine for yourself, like showering, getting dressed, eating meals at reasonable hours. It seems pretty basic, but we know how tempting it is to lounge around all day in our PJs. I mean, the baby does it. But the truth is, nothing will make you feel like you can tackle the day like getting ready for it. Take a few minutes in the morning before your partner is out of the door to do what you would have done to prep for the day pre-baby. It might just leave you feeling somewhat human again.
Move your body
Exercise has so many benefits, especially after pregnancy. It can truly help increase our energy level (we need it), elevate our mood (we need it) and improve the quality of our sleep (yup, we definitely need it). So get into the habit of moving your body regularly and get your baby involved. Go on a walk, do some yoga or stretching. Get that blood pumping, and you will feel a shift in your overall well-being.
Make the most of nap time
Newborns sleep A LOT. I know it’s tempting to clean and cook and do a million things around the house while baby naps, but use this opportunity to check in with yourself and your needs. It could be an excellent chance to have a nourishing meal, a warm cup of coffee, to call up a friend, or to nap too if your body needs it. You cannot properly care for a newborn if you’re running on empty.
Create a relaxing atmosphere at home
Your home is where you will be spending most of your time, and it can become baby central pretty fast, so reclaim it, or at least a part of it. Play some music, get fresh flowers, light some candles, anything to make being at home enjoyable. Create a space, or a room, for yourself to unwind and keep it free of bouncy chairs and swaddle blankets.
Ask for help
It’s OK to feel overwhelmed with a newborn at home. It would be surprising if you didn’t feel that way. No matter how many baby books you read or prenatal classes you took, there are no instructions for your baby, and you will learn as you go. Don’t be afraid to share the load and to ask for help. Make sure your needs are clear to your partner to get the most support possible. Know when to raise that white flag, and do it sooner rather than later.
Manage your expectations
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to do too much during your maternity leave. Most of us learn the hard way that it’s not always possible to navigate the waters of motherhood AND accomplish all the things we pictured ourselves doing during this time. It’s critical to learn to manage your expectations. So don’t feel the need to get it all done every day. Your priority is your baby, and then you. It is good to have a plan, but it needs to have some wiggle room, or you will always feel like you aren’t getting enough done. This is no time to try to be an overachiever. Start small, and add more to your day as you get into your groove as a new mom. Be kind to yourself.