Maternity leave is a real rollercoaster of a phase in your life.
Not only are you dealing with a brand new baby, and this new role of motherhood, but you may also be coping with strained finances and the emotional aspect of missing your career.
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So what can you do to survive maternity leave emotionally and practically?
Try these top strategies for coping:
1. Know your finances in advance
When it comes to starting a family, you can never start planning too far in advance!
But if you’re only just looking in your final trimester of pregnancy, it’s OK. You can still make a huge impact to your finances if you start by taking stock of what you have.
Double check your entitlement for maternity pay. How much will you get and for how long?
In the UK, mamas are entitled to up to one year of leave. It’s important to note however that some companies will not guarantee your old job back after nine months off work, just that you will be reemployed in some capacity.
It’s worth checking your company’s individual policy and go over it with a very fine toothed comb. If there are any issues, raise them with your company before you go on leave.
Once you know what you will be paid during maternity leave, figure out how you can make this fit with your monthly budget.
You may need to dip into savings but have a think about how you can make cuts so you don’t deplete your emergency funds too much.
Write down every single outgoing expense you have, from Christmas gifts to the monthly home insurance bill. Now you know exactly where you stand, and where you may need to make cuts if necessary.
2. Claim any money owed to you
Research what money may be owed to you in terms of child or maternity benefits after you have had a baby.
In the UK, parents of children under 16 receive £20.70 per week for their eldest child and then £13.70 per child for additional children.
There is additional help for lower income families. Either go online to your local government help website or ask your midwife or health visitor, who may be able to steer you in the right direction of who to ask for help.
3. Find ways to cut your expenses
If you have a decent nest egg saved for maternity leave then you may not need to cut your costs too much.
But most mamas will feel the pinch on their finances from being off work and without pay, or with much less than they are used to.
Find creative ways to cut your expenses. Areas to look at include:
- Your grocery bill. Where are you shopping? Could you shop at a cheaper supermarket? Are you wasting a lot of food?
- Takeaways. How often do you have these? Could you cut back from once a week to once a month, for example.
- Christmas and birthday gifts. Cut your budget for gifts and consider either spending less per person or making gifts. Loved ones will understand that money is tight following the arrival of a baby.
In addition, it’s worth looking into what items you could get for free. New mamas can claim a lot of freebies. From nappies to baby food, there are a lot of companies keen to give you samples just because you’ve had a baby.
Keep an eye out for offers from brands you already like. Research companies and baby clubs that may offer you free products or vouchers for money off in exchange for your details.
4. Get out of the house every day
Whether it’s a walk, a quick drive round to a friend’s house or a trip to the coffee shop, getting out of the house will help you stay sane.
Some days you will be exhausted, especially if your baby is not sleeping particularly well, so if you want a PJ day then go for it.
But getting out of the house is good for your body and mind, so try to make it part of your regular routine.
5. Set a routine that works for you
During the first eight weeks your baby will dictate everything that you do. It’s all about feeding, random sleep patterns and finding your feet with looking after your little one.
But once you hit 12 weeks, it may be easier for you to push your baby into a routine.
Of course your baby does need a set number of naps, otherwise they will be in emotional meltdown all day. But think about what you want to fit into your day and make it work for you.
You may like to check out these posts on routines by age:
6. Accept the help when it’s offered
As mums we assume that we have to be a superhero. But the pressure we place on ourselves to be supermum is just something that will ultimately backfire on us. No one can do it all by themselves all of the time.
So if your partner, friends or relatives offer to step in even if just for an hour, say yes and take the time for yourself.
You may not even do very much with that time, but just getting a quick nap can work wonders.
If your baby is in the middle of non-stop cluster feeding and won’t be handed over to anyone else, have an ongoing list of chores and tasks you can allocate to people who offer.
This might be little things like running the vacuum cleaner round or bringing over some food for your to eat that night.
7. Brace for a lot of change
If you are used to a busy working life with meetings, lots of conversations with actual adults and hitting goals that give you a lot of satisfaction, then maternity leave is going to be a huge change of pace for you.
Many mothers find maternity leave boring, and a little lonely at times. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
There is no easy answer for how to cope with this huge change in your life. It does feel very different and you may feel like you have a lost a little bit of your own identity in this change to motherhood.
Rest assured, that the first year is tough. It’s a huge adjustment.
For a start, it’s important to realise that this may be a tough year in many ways. But it’s also good to try and embrace this change in your life. If you will be returning to work after maternity leave, then remind yourself that this phase in your life is not forever.
Try to enjoy your time with your baby as much as possible.
Your emotions may feel all over the place, from missing work to feeling worried about not enjoying your baby enough, or feeling guilty at the prospect of eventually sending them to childcare.
Whatever you decide to do, try to roll with the changes and find ways to keep your brain active wherever you can.
If you have the energy, read a book. You could also check our number 10 on this list.
8. Plan smart meals
If you need to save money on your grocery bill, then meal planning is a smart place to start.
However, during maternity leave you may find that cooking is the absolute last thing you want to do at the end of every day.
It’s not enough to just meal plan and only visit the supermarket once a week.
You also need to be planning meals that are straight forward for you to eat, and that you can double up on. This way your freezer will be full of readymade meals for the days when you had zero sleep and cannot be bothered to cook.
It’s important for your own health that you continue eating well and emotionally you will feel so much better if you’re eating nutritious tasty meals.
Go for simple-to-cook meals with fewer ingredients, and cut corners where you can.
For example, if you’re making a pie with mash, buy the mash from the readymade section.
You can also buy veg that’s pre-prepared so you don’t need to do any chopping.
Instead of takeaways, which will eat up your monthly food budget fast, try your own versions of favourite dishes at home.
With leftover herbs, remember you can pop them in a freezer in a little oil in an ice cube tray so that you don’t waste any.
Leftover fruit can also be frozen and then used in smoothies on another day.
9. Get creative with the chores
Keeping on top of housework when you have a baby to look after feels pretty impossible.
For the first few weeks, just let the house go! It really is not your priority right now.
If you are really struggling to cope with your messy house, then delegate chores to your partner or to relatives who offer to help when they come over.
You can help yourself keep on top of things by:
- Switching on the dishwasher every night before bed and then just grabbing what you need from it as they day goes on.
- Put dirty clothes straight in the washing machine and just hit “go” when it’s full.
- Wipe down your kitchen surfaces with a multi-purpose antibacterial spray every evening.
- Wipe sinks and clean toilets every week.
- Run the vacuum round every week (or fortnightly if that’s all you can handle right now).
You can also get creative with chores by making it a fun activity with your baby.
Grab a microfibre cloth (one with a handle is the easiest to use one-handed) and run it all around the surfaces of your home, while holding your baby. Sing to them and make a game out of it.
10. Get a hobby
Doing nothing but look after a baby can become pretty repetitive. Of course you love being with your baby, but sometimes a bit of extra mental stimulation can help you enjoy your maternity leave even more.
Look for a hobby that you could take up that’s easy to fit around the baby.
For me it was blogging. For you it might be physically making something like knitting or art.
Whatever you do, find time to do it at least once a week so that you can have a mental break from thinking about nappies and feeding.
Why not check out this post for inspiration on hobbies for mamas.
11. Start looking into childcare now
Even if you’re having an entire year off work, it’s never too early to start researching childcare options.
Some places have a long waiting list, so it’s a good idea to think about where you would like your child to go after you have returned to work.
When looking at childcare options, you’ll want to think about:
- Do you prefer a nursery or childminder? There are benefits to both and it really just comes down to your personal preferences.
- What are the costs involved and can you afford them?
- Will the childcare provider be flexible to cater to your baby’s routine?
- Will you be able to continue breastfeeding your child with the childcare provider’s support? For example, will they store and offer the baby your expressed milk at feeding times.
12. Try to do some KIT days
Also known as Keeping In Touch days. This is where you go to work for the odd day during your maternity leave.
The idea is that you ease yourself back to work and show your face in the office so that you’re up to date with what’s going on.
Most companies limit the number of KIT days you can do, so check with your employer how their policy works.
13. Find mum friends
The best way to get through the tough days is with fellow mamas.
They will be going through exactly the same struggles as you and they will be able to offer a shoulder to cry on. It’s also great to get ideas for how to solve any issues you are having.
You can find mama friends through local groups or clubs. Hopefully you may already know a few people who have had babies at a similar time.
I hope you find these tips useful and they help you handle maternity leave like a pro!