While some expectant mums count down the days to maternity leave, others might feel slightly daunted by the time looming ahead. Find out how to make the most of your maternity leave
1. You get to hang out 24/7 with your baby – and family
This will probably be the most intense time you get to spend with your baby before siblings, work, nursery and school. So even if the time stretching out in front of you feels overwhelming, try to enjoy the opportunity to bond with your baby.
Nicola Coad, mum to Jackson and Evie and member of Harpenden & District NCT branch, says: “The best thing about maternity leave was having time to recover. Having time to focus on your baby without work stress worries. Finding a routine that suits you. And not having to get dressed!”
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) can be the perfect opportunity for your partner to spend time at home with your baby at the same time as you. Or you can take turns having time off, which might help you settle back into work more easily knowing your baby is being cared for by your partner at home.
2. Time really goes slowly quickly (yep, you read that right)
When you’re constantly with your baby it can be hard to notice how much they’re changing. But after a couple of months you might see a mum with a newborn and your own baby will look huge! So try and take a step back from the day-to-day rush to make the most of every stage.
Don’t forget to take lots of photos and videos, and if you’ve got the time you could jot down memories and pictures in a baby book. Everyone and every baby is different though, so if you just don’t have time then don’t beat yourself up. The most important thing is to live in the moment and enjoy spending time with your baby.
3. Watch them learn
Milestones usually involve a lot of trial and error… and many false starts. There’s rarely a big moment when your baby goes from sitting to miraculously walking! But if you do witness one of these amazing moments, enjoy it (and feel free to whoop about it).
For parents returning to work, one worry can be the chance of missing any ‘firsts’ but try not to feel guilty; they have a lifetime of these ahead. Besides, it’s a lot of fun watching them practice, so relish having the opportunity to cheer them on whenever you you can.
4. Get to know local friends
Yes, we did say savour every minute but we also know what it feels like if you haven’t left the house in three days and you’d dearly love to think about something other than dirty nappies. Get out and meet your NCT friends – even if you’re just going to talk about dirty nappies – because the change of scene and adult company will do you good.
Caroline Evans, mum to Poppy and member of Chelmsford NCT branch, says: ‘I was a bit daunted about going on maternity leave as I thought I would feel quite isolated, especially as I had recently moved to the Essex countryside from London. However my seven new NCT friends made the year amazing! We hung out together sharing experiences and supported each other through the difficult times. A year on, we remain good friends.’
Alex Bollen, NCT postnatal leader, says: “Being on maternity leave is usually a big change from working. It can be quite isolating and caring for a newborn can feel overwhelming at times. My top tip is to seek other people out.
“Getting together with other new parents can make maternity leave a lot of fun and also help you through the difficult times. Knowing that others are experiencing similar highs and lows is very reassuring.”
5. It’s a good time to refocus
In your previous life, when you were rushing from work to a social event to home, it might have been hard to find the time to actually step back and reassess if you were happy with what you were doing. Maternity leave can be a great time to consider what you want to do in the future, especially now you have a baby.
You might think about if you’d like to carry on with your career as it is, or whether you want the flexibility to make it more part time or even stop work for the time being (if that’s a practical option for you).
Of course, many mums find maternity leave can make them realise just how much they enjoy their jobs and having a non-mummy version of themselves. They go back to work with a drive and focus they never had before!
Alex says: “There is no right or wrong answer as to when to go back (if at all), although there are some practicalities to consider such as finances and finding childcare.”
6. You’ll rediscover where you live
It’s very likely that even if you love where you live, you’ll never have spent as much time in your local area as when you have a baby. And you definitely won’t have seen it through a mum’s eyes. Instead of spending evenings in your local pub or restaurant, you’ll get to discover the previously hidden world of playgrounds, baby-friendly cafés and learner pools.
“See what free activities are available in your local area – children’s centres and libraries are good places to see what’s on offer,” Alex says.
If having a baby has prompted a move to a new area, seeing what's happening at your local NCT branch can be a fantastic way to get to know your new home and make friends, and your maternity leave will give you a chance to do that. You might even consider becoming an NCT volunteer as a way to really get involved in your community and meet a network of new friends.
7. Get to know your baby
While some mums instantly bond with their baby, many of us need a little time to build up that special connection. Just as in other parts of your life, it can take a while to get to know someone, the same can be true of this new little person.
Relish having the time to connect with your baby, without external pressures. As the weeks pass, work out what they like and don’t like, and what you like and don’t like doing together. That might mean not getting out of your pyjamas until lunchtime, or it might be 6am trips to the swings! Find your own little groove.
8. Take some time out
Having a baby is no mean feat, and even if you feel ‘normal’, your body might take a while to get back to its pre-pregnancy state. As well as spending time with your baby, maternity leave is a chance for your body to recover.
Keeping up with your baby’s needs night and day can be challenging and let’s face it, hard work. A lot of mums joke that they look forward to getting back to work for some downtime.
But if your baby has been awake in the night, go ahead and snuggle in bed with them in the morning or take a nap when they do. Chill out on the sofa while you feed or just enjoy being with them and not ‘doing’ much. You might find these are the special moments you remember in years to come.
9. Work out what kind of mum you want to be
Even before you become a mum, there are literally hundreds of books out there advising you on different ways to bring up your baby. Add to the mix your feelings about your own upbringing and the opinions of family and friends, and the range of differing guidance can be mind-boggling.
Make the most of having some time to work out what kind of mum you want to be. We don’t mean poring through every manual out there with a highlighter pen (unless that makes you happy!) but just spend time with your baby and see what comes naturally for you both.
10. You can get out and about...eventually
There are lots of things you might like to do during your maternity leave if you get the chance. You might find that your local cinema holds mum and baby cinema screenings, or you could sign up to an infant swim or massage class.
It’s a great idea to explore new groups with NCT friends, or even just work out with them where you can get the best coffee or shady spot in the park. Enjoy the fact your baby is so easily portable – in months and years to come your determined toddler might have their own ideas about where they want to go!
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby. To find out when an NCT nearly new sale is happening near you, search here.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.