How to Make the Most of Maternity Leave

How to make the most of maternity leave is different for everyone, but some things are universal. Here’s how to optimize precious time and family opportunities.

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Taking maternity leave is a great opportunity to bond with your new baby, recover, and recharge after pregnancy and giving birth. According to Zippia’s research, 70% of new moms in the U.S. take some form of it.¹ Whether for a few weeks or a year away from your job, consider taking full advantage of your parental leave.

By knowing how to make the most of maternity leave, you can focus on family while preparing for eventual return to work. Here we’ll cover ways to optimize your precious time and family-life opportunities.

Prioritize your time

No doubt, your to-do list is changing. Prioritizing how you spend your time off will be important. It may seem now like you’ll have lots of free time during your extended leave. But maternity leave won’t last forever. And the weeks you have are likely to include sleepless nights and difficulties keeping to a schedule, at least initially. Focusing on what’s important now becomes beneficial later. If you don’t, you may regret or resent not having done certain things before you go back to work.

Get to know your baby during waking hours

It may be tempting to ignore the advice to sleep when the baby naps in favor of getting things done. But don’t be too quick to follow it.

Use this time to rest yourself so you can spend waking hours getting to know your baby and yourself as a new mom. Mother-child time is precious time you won’t get back. So when your precious baby sleeps, it’s the perfect time to get the important rest you need as well.

Live in the moment

It can be difficult to manage new responsibilities with existing family obligations. Yet, while these things are important, new moms shouldn’t feel guilty about spending time in the moment. Whether it’s your first baby or you’re on second maternity leave or subsequent, there will be unique “firsts” and amazing moments. Don’t miss out on them because you’re hyper-focused on your to-do list. Tasks will always be waiting for you; the list never really ends.

Make the most of family time

Spending an extended period of time at home can broaden opportunities to share quality time with immediate and extended family. The time before you go back to work will fly, so make the most of it. Fun, low-key activities to engage in at or near home could include:

  • Walks in the fresh air.
  • Gardening.
  • Dancing, singing, or playing an instrument.
  • Family game, puzzle, or reading hour.
  • Planning and cooking family meals together.
  • Half-day excursions to explore local places of interest.
  • Visits with relatives or neighbors, either at their home, yours, or a local park.
  • Gardening.

Whatever you’re doing, be attentive to your baby and loved ones, not to your phone, computer, or other external preoccupation. Your new child will be absorbing information at a rapid pace, so talk, move, and be positively animated. What you model is helping to shape a new life.

Pursue a personal interest

Maternity leave is time for taking care of baby, but also of yourself. Do you have any hobbies or personal interests you’ve wanted to pursue but didn’t have the free time? Have you just been needing a breath of fresh air and a break now and then?

As long as your interests don’t conflict with other new-mom responsibilities, now may be the time to follow them without feeling guilty. Your own self-care is important, and this includes social, spiritual, and mental health and well-being. The healthier you are inside and out, the more present and engaged you can be for your family.

Document this important time

Sharing milestones and intimate time with baby is a very special experience worth documenting for them, yourself, and others. Consider keeping a journal or 2 (1 for yourself and maybe 1 for baby) and starting a baby book. Write down your feelings, document any “firsts” and special moments, and take lots of photos and videos.

Remember to periodically print favorite photos and backup your folders as your digital media library grows.

Accept or hire help

Maternity leave is designed to let new moms spend time with baby, recuperate from childbirth, and adjust to their new lives. So the last thing you should do is try to handle everything yourself.

If possible, accept help from caring family and friends, even if only for a couple hours a week. Chances are, loved ones would be willing to spend time helping with baby, meal prep, baby-proofing, and more. Accepting help with routine tasks can free you to focus on more personal ones. You might start exercising, shopping for baby clothes, pursuing outside work, or making childcare arrangements for when you go back to work.

If you can afford it, you might also consider paid help for housekeeping, cooking, yard work, or babysitting. You might even train a neighborhood teen as a mother’s helper to watch your baby and/or other children while you take short breaks at home.

Balance your connection to the workplace

There are numerous ways to stay minimally connected to the workplace without that impeding the true purpose of maternity leave. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that work should be all or nothing.

Creating a plan and establishing healthy boundaries helps working moms avoid this pitfall, meeting the needs of both job and baby. For instance, making yourself available to your employer doesn’t have to mean being “on” all the time. Instead, offer timeframes you’re available for brief chats or invite colleagues to email you.

Prepare for return to work

At some point your time off will come to an end. When it does, it’ll be good to be ready for returning to work after maternity leave. About a month before you go back to work, discuss the details with your employer, HR team, or manager. Will you work remotely (either full-time or hybrid), transition part-time, or jump right back into your usual schedule? Other to-do items include confirming childcare arrangements and purchasing items that you, your baby, and family will need.

How you make the most of maternity leave is up to you, so make it count

Chances are, you prepared in advance for maternity leave. But all the planning and excitement in the world won’t help you if you’re physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. During your leave, prioritize taking care of yourself as much as you take care of others. Savor the sweet and simple things. Near the end, do what makes sense to prepare for eventual return to work without cutting time with family short. Your health and readiness will help you continue taking care of family once you’re back to work.

For other valuable HR and career-related tips, tools, and insights visit Workest by Zenefits daily.

1 “Average Paid Maternity Leave In The US [2023]: US Maternity Leave Statistics” Sep. 12, 2022

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