11 Ways to Actually Enjoy Your Maternity Leave
Get Organized Early
Once you've told your boss that you're pregnant, talk to HR to find out what kind of maternity leave you're entitled to, and how long your job will be held for you. Some states have their own provisions for leave, so research yours here at ncsl.org.
Then focus on tying up loose ends at work well in advance of your due date — baby may arrive early! Start copying coworkers on emails and keep extra notes on new projects. Now is also the time to set expectations about your leave. Will you respond to the occasional phone call or e-mail? Make clear how available (if at all) you'll be.
RELATED: Know Your Maternity Leave Rights
Prearrange Some Help
Take it from us: Line up some help to get through the first weeks with a newborn, and play to each person's strengths.
For example, my mother was great at grocery shopping, but virtually useless when it came to waking up at night for a feeding. My friend Pete was great at keeping me company when I got lonely, but hopeless at diaper changes. Getting help early makes it a lot more likely that you'll feel energized and ready to have fun later on.
For weeks — pre and postpartum — I lived in fear of the Baby Bjorn. There were just so many straps and buckles, I was afraid I was going to hang myself or that the baby would slip out through a leg hole onto the sidewalk.
The lesson: Try out the gear you fear before you have the baby so you'll have the hang of using it by the time he's arrived. Return any stuff you don't like before you break it or baby spits up on it, whichever comes first.
RELATED: Parents' Best Baby Gear 2018
Get The Right Diaper Bag
Here's a tip: It might not be the really cute one you've coveted since you conceived. If your bag is uncomfortable, too big, too small, or just impractical, getting out and having fun is going to be that much harder; so shop around and compare bags.
Keep in mind that you'll need to fit diapers, wipes, a change of clothing for baby, bottles (if you're not breastfeeding), burp cloths, a diaper changing pad, your wallet, keys, and a cell phone at the very least.
RELATED: What to Keep in Your Baby Diaper Bag
Understand Your Insurance
There's plenty of paperwork that must be completed shortly before and after your baby arrives. As Dana Paiz, a physician's assistant in Grand Rapids, discovered, she needed to contact her short-term-disability insurance provider and make a claim prior to her leave. Once her baby arrived, "We needed to call again from the hospital so they could begin paying my short-term disability," she says.
In some cases you'll also be required to notify your health-insurance company within 30 days of your baby's arrival. Get the details now and create a calendar alert so you won't forget when sleep deprivation kicks in.
Accept That The First Weeks Will Be Hard
My husband and I, fools that we were, thought we could take advantage of my extended time off and head to Europe for a relaxing vacation. The truth? Those first few weeks with a newborn are a shock to everyone's system.
You're getting used to being a sleep-deprived, milk-leaking mom; your baby is adjusting to living outside the warm comfort of your womb; and your husband is adjusting to being a dad. Simply walking around the block can feel like a major accomplishment so this is not the time to pressure yourself into running around being social or productive.
Explore Your Neighborhood
You'll need to get dressed and get out of the house, ideally once a day at least, for your own sanity's sake. Scout around and see where other mothers tend to gather, where the best playgrounds for young kids are located, and what other places seem stroller- and child-friendly. The last thing you want to do is schlep your child to a local restaurant or store, only to realize when you get there that it's too cramped for your stroller or too uncomfortable for you to nurse.
Arrange (Mom) Fun
There's only so much socializing a postpartum body and new baby can handle. On many a day I found myself alone in the house with a snoozing baby, too wired to sleep, but too tired to do anything productive. I would have liked to watch the various movies I'd missed in the theater or read a trashy novel.
The problem was, I had such a bad case of Mommy brain, I couldn't remember the titles of any of those books or movies. Avoid this pitfall by writing down in advance any movies you want to rent, and pick up a bunch of novels at a used book store.
Make Mommy Friends
Brand-new parenthood can be lonely, especially after your help has departed. So if you see another pregnant woman at Starbucks every day, strike up a conversation. I made a new friend on maternity leave while standing at a crosswalk. She was there with her newborn, I was there with mine; it turned out we lived in the same apartment complex, and our daughters, who were born two weeks apart, had the same name. We've been friends ever since.
You can also find out where the new-mom groups meet (your OB-Gyn's office, pediatrician's office, place of worship, or town Web site likely has information) and check out the scene. Groups come in all styles and sizes. That means that if you're a big co-sleeper/breastfeeder type, you may not want to mingle with the strict bedtime, no-snacks-before-dinner supermoms, if you catch my drift.
Arrange Child Care
You'll need child care at some point if you decide to go back to work, and the start of your leave—when you're focused on your newborn and exhausted to boot—isn't the ideal time to start researching options. Wait lists for space with a child-care provider may be six months to a year, depending on where you live, so you may need to apply well before you deliver.
If you plan to hire a sitter or a nanny, start asking friends or coworkers how they found their caregiver. Also check out services such as Care.com. Your leave will go by quickly, so it's essential to get a plan for child care in place early.
RELATED: 8 Tips for Choosing Child Care
Chances are you'll need some extra funds to cover your time off. "We started putting money away almost as soon as we found out I was pregnant," says Heffelmire, who took 12 weeks unpaid leave with her first son and 12 weeks of partial-pay leave with her second son. "Small amounts can add up over nine months. I budgeted for all of our 'musts'—the mortgage, groceries, utilities—and tried to save three months' worth of that amount."