As my maternity leave for baby number two is coming to an end, I wish to share my new found knowledge of how to have a good, meaningful maternity leave for any other working moms out there.
1. Take the full leave. I don't know what your job does or doesn't offer for maternity benefits, but the FMLA guarantees you twelve weeks of leave. Yes it's unpaid. Find a way to take the full twelve weeks, no matter how much it hurts your budget. Your baby deserves it. You can always make more money. You can never nurture your newborn baby again.
2. Lower Your Expectations. I always think I'll get a ton of crafting, home improvement projects, and gardening done. I think I'll read a ton of novels and even write one. Heck, I even think I'll make my bed every day. Never happens. Realistic expectations include getting dressed almost every day, showering four times a week, and taking out the trash once in awhile. And that's okay. Maternity leave isn't about you having three months off to do whatever you want - that would be summer vacation. See tip #13.
3. Get Amazon Prime. If you're living under a rock and don't know what this is, it is a membership program with Amazon.com. It costs $79 a year. You get free two-day shipping on eligible items and streaming videos and even free popular Kindle books. I live in a farming town 30 minutes away from Wal-Mart and the two-day shipping has saved my life. Batteries for the baby swing. Deodorant. A kiddie pool for my 3 year old. A swamp cooler. On a Monday I may realize I need something. I think I'll get out the next day to get something (Tuesday) but that doesn't happen. It might not even happen on Wednesday. And it takes a lot of courage to get dressed and look presentable, put two kids in a hot car (and my newborn screams the entire time she is in a car seat not matter what I do) and drive 30 minutes and take on the chaos of Walmart then drive 30 minutes home. Not fun. If I order what I need on Monday, I have it by Wednesday delivered right to my door. I don't even have to put pants on. Seriously - ask for a Prime membership for your baby shower. It will be worth it.
4. Don't Cut Your Hair. Babies grab hair. They spit up in hair. New moms have less time to spend styling hair. I get why new moms cut their hair. I say don't do it. Wait until the maternity leave is over. If your hair is long enough to put in a ponytail or bun, it is easier to keep out of the baby's reach/spit up range than chin-length hair. New hair styles take a few weeks to learn how to style and like. You won't be styling your hair very much. You'll probably end up hating your new shorter 'do because you can't take the time to get used to it. You'll feel frumpy. And if your hair is long enough to pull back, you're not getting any benefit.
5. Buy New Pajamas. You'll be wearing them a lot. It's a new little treat for you. Make them cozy, comfy, presentable (i.e., no excessive cleavage in case you have to answer the door in them), and appropriate to the season.
6. Entertain Yourself During Nighttime Feedings. Nighttime feedings are hard to wake up for. It helps when you are engrossed in Firefly on Netflix and you're somewhat excited to get up at 4 a.m. to see what will happen between Malcom and Inara. Find a movie, TV show, or book to entertain you during those late, late feedings and you might actually kind of look forward to them. (Aside from Netflix, I love reading my Kindle while I feed the baby because I don't have to worry about turning pages and holding a big book open with one hand.)
7. Don't Plan Too Much. This is a variation of tips 2 and 13, but it is worth saying. Don't spread yourself too thin and allow yourself to be flexible. I planned six family visits to do in 12 weeks. Too much. We accomplished three and postponed the rest. I've also learned that I don't plan to do anything before 10 a.m. I just can't.
8. Make a Lunch Plan. If you are a working mom like me, you are not used to being in charge of lunch. It sounds silly, but this was a big adjustment for me. During a 12 week leave, PB & J and Ramen noodles only satisfy you for maybe two weeks. Make sure to plan lunches like you do dinners. And make sure they are easy. Some of my favorites - mini pizzas made on English muffins, quesadillas (I love to put Ranch dressing, cheddar cheese, and cold-cut ham between two tortillas and fry up), and fruit smoothies.
9. Buy Extra Socks and Underwear. A few extra pairs will buy you a day or two before you have to do laundry. Totally worth it.
10. Take People Up on Offers of Help. People always offer to help. "Let me know if you need anything." People really want to help. But they don't always know how. Don't be afraid to let them know what you need. Do not deny them the opportunity to provide service. And don't be afraid to ask for help before you have a mental breakdown! For me, I had to ask my neighbors to help with yard work - lawn mowing and garden weeding. And of course, watching the baby while I napped or went to the dentist.
11. Stock Your House with Easy Food. Sometimes you can plan meals, shop, and cook. Sometimes you can't. Easy, healthy options will prevent you from eating a bag of chips for breakfast and last year's Halloween candy for lunch and feeling like crap for the rest of the day. Suggestions for healthy, easy eats: fresh fruit, Swanson's frozen pot pies, frozen pizzas, canned soup, canned fruits and veggies, etc.
12. Know Your Local Resources. Do you have a grocery store that delivers? A drive-through pharmacy? What local restaurants deliver? Does your insurance support a call-in prescription program so you don't have to go to the doctor for medicine? Is there a grocery store or gym that has free child care? Sometimes this means spending a bit more money, but when it comes to your sanity, these things can be life savers. I don't always like paying the higher prices to shop at Fred Meyer, but my 3 year old can play in their child center for an hour and I can shop so much easier. Sometimes it is so worth it.
13. Remember What Maternity Leave Is For. These twelve weeks are to nurture and bond with your new baby. If you happen to organize the basement at the same time, great. But if not, that's okay. Spend your energy in the right place and never feel guilty about putting off a chore to rock your baby and snuggle her close.