What to Expect During Maternity Leave

Article at a Glance

  • The first six weeks of a baby’s life are intense periods of growth and change.
  • Plan for a great deal of self-care and bonding, and very little else.
  • Set yourself up for success by asking for help from experts and family.

Maternity leave is a time of change and growth for both you and your baby. It’s also a period when you can make sure to take care of yourself as much as possible if you put in a little planning. In this article, we’re going to talk about what to expect during your maternity leave, how to get the most from this time, and what changes to expect in your new addition.

What to Expect from Your Body, Emotions, and Brain

Once your baby is born, you’ll have a lot going on in the recovering department. During this time, it’s wise to focus on yourself and how you’re feeling both physically and emotionally. Talk With a Doc: Free Newborn ClassAnd of course, you’re learning to care for another human, so your brain is also working hard, processing and retaining new information about everything from the best way to make a diaper stay shut to the perfect breastfeeding hold.

But during that first weeks, you might feel like your body is working against you. It’s very common for new moms to experience extreme fatigue and heavy bleeding. If you’ve had a C-section or episiotomy, you’ll also be dealing with pain and wound care.

Not everyone suffers every post-partum discomfort, but the list of possibilities is long. If you had fantasies about how much cleaning and organization you’d get done with all that “free time,” do yourself a favor and abandon those ambitions early. Give yourself permission to stop being “productive” and put these goals on your “project plan” instead:

  • Sleep whenever baby will let you. Your bodies both need the rest equally.
  • Give breastfeeding your best shot, knowing it will take some time and it might be ugly before it becomes beautiful. Plan to enlist a lactation consultant early so you can avoid weeks of frustration.
  • Focus on letting your body heal and fueling those gratifying changes with nutritious food. Shop for easy but nutrient-dense snacks like cheese sticks, cut veggies, fresh fruits, and hard-boiled eggs.
  • Remember to stay well hydrated. Drinking ample water will help you heal, reduce swelling, and make breastfeeding go more smoothly.
  • Find your balance of social visits. You aren’t obligated to let anyone (except perhaps your partner) hold the baby.
  • Set clear boundaries and put visitors to work. A boundary can be as simple as, “I’d love for you to see the baby. We’ll both be awake between 3 and 4 today,” or, “I’d love you to visit. Could you come tomorrow at 5pm? That’s when baby is happiest, and it would be such a help to have you hold her while I make dinner.”
  • Don’t let your health—mental or physical—take a back seat. If you’re concerned about anything, call your OB or talk to your baby’s Pediatrician. Pregnancy and childbirth are physiological roller coaster rides. If the feelings of anxiety or sadness you’ve been warned about feel heavier or last longer than you expected, talk to your doctor right away.
  • Remind yourself that your loved ones want to help. They’re just waiting for you to tell them what to do. Practice asking for small favors that could ease your transition, whether that’s having your in-laws pick up some diapers, asking your partner to let you grab a nap, or letting your neighbor bring you dinner.

What to Expect from your Constantly Changing Baby

In the first month or two of life, your baby will learn to do many incredible things.

  • Slowly, his sleep schedule will drift from many short naps into fewer, but larger blocks of sleep.
  • He’ll also get more adept at feeding quickly, latching on like a pro, and taking more milk or formula at each feeding.
  • His umbilical cord will dry up and fall off, and all those newborn skin issues that so concerned you will be a distant memory.
  • He might even start to enjoy short periods of tummy time and be able to lift his head about 25-45 degrees while in a prone position.

By the end of the first month, your body should also feel a lot more familiar. At this point, many new parents are ready to start venturing out with their baby for a few hours at a time or even take a short road trip. A month is a long time to stay home, and you two may be craving new sites and experiences outside your four walls.

At four to six weeks your baby is likely spending more of her daylight hours awake. Even though she isn’t walking, talking, or grasping yet, there are many ways you can bond, interact, and entertain one another. Here are a few age-old moves:

  • Get verbal: Talk to baby about everything you’re doing. Baby talk isn’t necessary, but the sound of your voice and hearing everyday conversation will help your baby bond with you and lay the first building blocks for language acquisition. Read her the recipe you’re cooking, tell her all your dad’s old jokes. The content isn’t as important as the interaction.
  • Play hide-and-seek: Hold a brightly colored object near baby’s face, then move it to the periphery of her vision. As she becomes able to track it, this is a great game to strengthen her neck muscles.
  • Strength Training: Tummy time is essential because it strengthens the muscles baby will need to crawl and then walk. Lay your newborn on her stomach on a quilt while she is awake, but don’t force it. Here are a few tips for easing tummy time.
  • Get Social: Holding a mirror in front of baby’s face gives her an engaging “friend” to investigate. 
  • Take a walk. New sites, smells, and sounds are perfect ways for babies to explore and learn about the world. He may not be able to grasp yet, but let your baby touch and feel different textures as you explore together.

You’ll see your Pediatrician at least twice in the first six weeks, but don’t be shy about calling between visits. Your baby’s doctor and their staff are there to help, and there are no “dumb questions.” Call whenever you need, or keep a notepad on hand for all those questions you want to ask at your next visit.

Reviewed on September 16, 2021 by: Bryan Weed, M.D.
Bryan Weed, M.D.
Board-certified Pediatrician

After completing his undergraduate degree in Business Management, Dr. Weed moved to Pennsylvania to study Medicine. While he tried to keep an open mind about a specialty, he noticed that pediatric rounds were always his favorite.

Vineyard Office
Full Bio

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