Maternity leave is not a vacation. It's just a different, more demanding—and more rewarding—kind of work.
For the uninitiated, maternity leave seems like a pretty good deal—several weeks off of work, (sometimes) paid, and a cute little baby to snuggle. But maternity leave is no vacation. There's no basking in endless "me time" or taking up new hobbies while sipping bubbly and getting mani-pedis (but, if you happen to find the time to do any of that your maternity leave, you go!).
Many new moms report feeling overwhelmed and sleep-deprived during the early days and weeks with a newborn. And thanks to your shifting hormones and a demanding new schedule, feelings of sadness and depression are not rare.
Want to know what you're in for? Here are 5 things that really happen on maternity leave:
1. A serious lack of sleep
When it comes to infant sleep, all bets are off. There's going to be at least a few weeks or months (depending on your baby's tempermant and food intake) where sleep, in any amount, is certainly not guaranteed. That's because newborn bellies are tiny, like the size of a pea, then a blueberry, then a walnut. What that boils down to is you (and maybe your partner, if you've mastered your breast pump or are using formula) are waking on an almost constant basis to feed and, hopefully, maybe, soothe your baby back to sleep. Maybe you get an hour a night. Maybe you get three. If you hit the baby lottery, five is a possibility.
2. Spitup in your hair—almost constantly
How did it get there? How long has it been there? You'll ask these questions at some point during maternity leave. Babies spit up—usually when we're busy holding them and doing something else, too. So combine that with the sleep deprivation, and forgetting there's spitup in your hair is not that hard to do. If you're lucky, you'll get a shower today, or maybe tomorrow. But the baby will probably spit up right after you've finally lathered up. On the bright side, at least they make dry shampoo now!
3. Going topless for days
It may sound strange, but if you're breastfeeding, sometimes it's easier to simply skip wearing a top. I know I spent many a day sitting on my couch, nursing so much it just didn't make sense to put a shirt back on between feedings. Someone coming to the door was the only real reason to get up and clothe myself. Going topless has some benefits: Some research claims that a topless week is the best way to get a strong start in breastfeeding, by letting your baby feel your warmth and smell your milk.
4. Crying for no good reason
The baby. You. Everyone! Crying for no good reason is a common side effect of all those postpartum hormones. If you've been up all night, if you have a baby who can't seemed to be soothed, if you just feel like letting the water works fly, go for it. Sometimes the best therapy is a good cry. Oh, and a really big cookie.
5. Falling madly in love with your baby
Consider maternity leave your initiation into motherhood, an ever-changing state that's challenging in a million and one ways. It's hard and exhausting and oh, so fleeting. And while it's pretty demanding, it's actually a wonderful time of bonding and getting to know your little one. At the end of it, you likely will be so head over heels that the sleepless nights, the tears, and all the spitup will feel like minor road bumps. And maybe, just maybe, you'll find yourself a top.