During my first maternity leave, I think I was a bit hard on myself. Perhaps because I was worried about the financial implications of maternity pay, or perhaps because I had yet to discover my own identity as a mother. Perhaps it was because breastfeeding was incredibly hard at times, or because I’d had a long labour and fairly difficult birth. Whatever the cause, I became a bit of a martyr to new motherhood.
I looked a mess as I lived in cheap hoodies and badly fitting jeans. I felt guilty for watching TV while feeding the baby. I was frustrated by the mess in my house and that it wasn’t up to my usual standards – not forgetting that we’d had building work done, which made the dirt worse.
Then there was the baby. The books told me he’d sleep. He didn’t sleep. He just wanted to feed, all day. Every time I passed him to someone else, he’d cry. He’d be passed back to me and he’d root and feed. I was stuck to the sofa and hated it.
This time, I’ve been kinder to myself. I’ve known what to expect, and I’ve prepared for it – perhaps not always intentionally, but subconsciously.
It’s made the postpartum time following Samuel’s birth a million times better. Yes, I’ve known what to expect. Yes, his birth was brilliant. Yes, breastfeeding has been so much easier. But I’ve felt better about myself, and that has made a huge difference.
1. Look after your skin
- This sounds incredibly trivial when you’re trying to keep a small baby alive, but I’ve found it’s the little things that make all the difference. Nice skincare, and 30 seconds to put on moisturiser make you feel much more human.
- Late pregnancy and childbirth, not to mention sleep deprivation and breastfeeding dehydration, mean that your skin looks terrible. If you’re anything like me, that doesn’t help when you’re feeling a bit blue!
- Give the baby to your partner for a few minutes. It doesn’t really matter if he or she cries a bit (the baby, not the partner). Do your skincare routine. Use nice products. You will feel a million times better. You’re a new mum in the toughest time of your life, and you need a bit of TLC.
2. Spend a bit of money on post-baby clothes
- When you’ve just given birth, and you still have that weird post-baby bump, clothes shopping is the last thing you need to do. You don’t want to be wandering around shops for starters, and you will definitely be feeling a little bigger than you’d like (although, hopefully, a bit smaller than you were). If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need some breastfeeding clothes, and you’ll probably be so sick of your maternity clothes that you want to burn them.
- This time, I bought a few breastfeeding tops and big jumpers (Samuel was born in November) before I gave birth. I got a few pairs of leggings (I never normally wear them) and a shirt-dress. I’ve expanded my wardrobe since then, but those clothes made all the difference in those first few weeks. I’m wearing one of my big jumpers in my profile photos that were taken when Samuel was less than three weeks old.
3. Plan a few treats for the first few weeks
Tim took two weeks off when Samuel was born. We knew we would have limited time, but we tried to make the most of it. The thing is, in those first few weeks, the midwives come round a lot. If it’s not a midwife, it’ll be the health visitor. And they never tell you an exact time! So you’re waiting in for them and, to be honest, it’s a bit annoying.
So when we could, we treated ourselves a bit. We had nice food from Waitrose. We went out for lunch a few times (once while Ben was in preschool which was a real treat). We watched a couple of DVDs. I think Tim went to the cinema to see James Bond!
We had less time with Tim on leave with Samuel, but I think we had a better time than when Ben was born.
4. Hire a cleaner
I’m slightly embarrassed about this one. Basically, when I went back to work full time, I knew I would have to spend some of my weekends cleaning. I wanted to spend my weekends with Ben, so my mum suggested getting a cleaner. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I don’t mind cleaning at all – although it’s not great when my eczema is bad – and I certainly won’t have a cleaner for ever, but having someone to do it for you is a real luxury.
This time, I think she’s probably helped to save my sanity! Every two weeks, I know the house is going to be really clean. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get the time to do it myself, because at least it will get cleaned at some point.
I think I’m the kind of person who finds it quite stressful to be in a house where it’s not very clean, or where things are quite untidy. A clean and tidy place to live are pretty high on my priority list. I also like to do things well – I’d probably prefer for Tim to take the baby while I do some cleaning rather than ask him to do it, although his cleaning skills have definitely improved since we got married – sorry Tim!
So take up the offers of someone to clean for you (or to take the baby out while you do it). Teach your partner how you like things to be cleaned. Don’t feel guilty about hiring a cleaner – you’re giving employment to someone and freeing up your own time to spend with your family. It doesn’t have to be forever, but for those few months, it is amazing.
5. Make the most of each stage
During my first maternity leave, I think I felt quite guilty about not being at work! I was surprised by how much I missed work and wanted to go back. It took me quite a while to get into the swing of maternity leave.
The second time around, that has definitely not been the case! Now, I love being able to just go to a cafe during the week. Or pottering around the shops while it’s quiet. Or making the most of midweek discounts.
The thing is, each stage doesn’t last long at all. So at the moment, Samuel is very happy to potter around the shops in his pram while Ben is at preschool. I know in a few months time, when he’s crawling or walking, he won’t be content to do this. It’s the same with cafes – you have to make the most of them while the baby is little!
It’s the same with the weeks when it feels like all you’re doing is breastfeeding. That’s the time to binge-watch box sets. The baby won’t be affected by the television, but you might go crazy during a cluster feeding session if you can’t focus on something other than the feed.
The biggest thing I’ve learned about parenting is that each stage has its challenges and its joys. You have to learn to enjoy the joys so you can cope with the challenges. It’s hard, and no-one will deny that. Those post-partum weeks will be some of the hardest in your life. Be kind to yourself. You’ve just had a baby: you deserve it.