Whether you’re hurtling towards the final weeks of pregnancy, already on leave awaiting your baby’s imminent arrival, or part way through your time-off, you may be wondering how to make the most of your maternity leave. We explore the best way to enjoy those first months off with your baby, from bonding with the little one and meeting other mums, to helping your baby to develop new skills.
Parent and baby classes
Once you’re ready to start getting out and about, there are a range of classes specifically aimed at new mums (or dads!) and their babies. Juggling the demands of parenthood with a timed class can be fun and games – baby will likely fall asleep, nappies will explode at the wrong moment, and milk will no doubt make a reappearance, but the class will be full of new, sleep-deprived parents that understand, smile and even laugh along with you.
For those with smaller babies, baby massage is a lovely bonding experience, with hands-on, skin-to-skin contact believed to have a direct impact on baby and parent wellbeing. Our blog on the benefits of yoga for babies explores the benefits of yoga for babies, from the neurodevelopmental benefits of the sensory experience to helping with digestion, sleep and that all-important parent-child bonding. Find your local yoga class here.
In fact, with sensory experiences known to boost neural connections in the brain, it is also worth checking out your local sensory classes for babies. You could also take your baby swimming from as young as six weeks (reminder: we’re not medical experts, check with your medical practitioner). Starting early can get your baby used to the water as well as being a lovely bonding exercise.
Meet other parents
As well as spending time with your new addition, maternity leave is also a great time to meet other mothers. Spending time with other new parents, swapping stories, concerns or tips, or just bonding over shared experiences can be really good for your own wellbeing. It is also a good experience for babies, getting them out of the house, meeting new people, and seeing new sights is very important for their development. For those looking for something active, there are lots of fitness classes out there for new mums. And, for those who aren’t quite ready to get active (and that’s fine too), there’s always a way to make cake and coffee a compulsory part of the gathering!
For some new parents, even getting baby out of the house can seem like an adventure in itself! Just as with anything in life, we all approach things differently – and that’s just fine. For those who want to get out and about, a baby sling (borrow one from your local sling library) can give you and baby a bit more freedom than a pushchair. You could even take babywearing to the next level by embarking on gentle hikes, nature walks, or even exploring new cities with your little one securely wrapped against you. It's a wonderful way to introduce your baby to the world and stay active at the same time.
Don’t put pressure on yourself
Looking around the web, there are lots of suggestions that new mums could take up a new hobby, learn a new skill, or “invest in personal growth” during maternity leave. We’re here to tell you that looking after a new baby is a new skill! New mums should put no more pressure on themselves than just enjoying time with the newest member of your family unit, and mastering all the new skills that come hand in hand with a new baby. If you can master baking up a storm with a baby strapped to your front, then that’s great – but maternity leave is about getting to grips with a new reality – and that alone is challenge enough!
Enjoy the present, but think about the future
Maternity leave flies by. It isn’t a time you’ll ever be able to repeat with your baby, so make the most of every moment. While you’re busy enjoying classes, meeting other mums and spending time with baby, the return to work is creeping ever closer. Whether you have support from grandparents, a local childminder or a nursery place, it can pay to plan ahead and think about what childcare could look like when maternity leave is over.
Make a time capsule
As a new mum, one of the phrases you’ll probably hear most is that the time flies by (we just did it ourselves!). And it does. There are loads of great ways to record those special maternity leave memories – from baby milestone cards that you can use to record monthly pictures of baby’s growth, to baby books to record milestones. The important thing to remember is that recording memories doesn’t need to be done in an expensive way. Even an old shoe box full of baby’s firsts – babygrows, hospital tags, haircuts etc. – will be one of your most valuable possessions in years to come!
Bonding with your baby
Read any baby book or blog, and bonding will always be at the top of the list. We’ve left it until almost last, not because it isn’t important, but because everything on our list can and will help you to bond with your baby. Everything from those first skin-to-skin moments, to cuddling, singing, reading and playing with your little one will strengthen your connection. Those quiet, one-on-one moments are incredibly important, but baby massage, yoga for babies, and music classes will all help with bonding while also getting you out of the house.
Help for new parents
Last, but by no means least, make sure you ask for help if you need it. Having a baby is a life-changing experience. And, as life-changing experiences go, it's a biggie. If you’re struggling with being a parent, there is plenty of help out there.
Your health visitor
A health visitor will usually visit you at home for the first time around 10 days after your baby is born. A health visitor is a qualified nurse or midwife who has had extra training. They're there to help you, your family, and your new baby stay healthy. You will be allocated a Health Visitor automatically, but call your GP if you need support before their planned visit.
Sure Start children's centres
Sure Start children's centres provide family health and support services, including advice and information for parents on a range of issues, from parenting to training and employment opportunities. Some have special services for young parents.
Birth and Beyond Community Support
NCT Birth and Beyond Community Support is a programme that trains local women and birthing people to become volunteer peer supporters in order to help mums during the all-important first 1,000 days.
MumsAid offers support during the perinatal period (pregnancy, birth and the early infant years), which includes counselling and psychotherapy, befriending/peer support and support for post natal depression.
Maternal Mental Health Alliance
The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) is a UK-wide charity and network of over 120 organisations, dedicated to ensuring all women and families impacted by perinatal mental health problems have access to high-quality, compassionate care and support.