A First Time Mom Reflects on Life During Maternity Leave

Last year I wrote a piece about my prenatal feelings, preparations and tips for fellow first time expecting moms. Fast forward a year and my son Silas is about to turn one. It’s true when they say, “the days are long, but the years are short”. I can hardly believe my maternity leave is already coming to an end. In the beginning, though, time seemed to drag on. Life was a blur of sleepless nights, raging hormones, non-stop feedings, days spent in pajamas, trying to soothe a crying baby, eating nothing but cereal, hoping to keep him entertained and not get cabin fever. I was once so sleep deprived I spent ten minutes searching for my phone, only to find it in my own hand. I was both completely in love with my son and completely overwhelmed by how foreign, scary and upside down my world felt.

Maternity leave can be long and lonely, especially in those early first months. I’d inwardly sigh with skepticism when veteran parents assured me things would get better. It’s hard to see the light when you’re in the trenches. But then, the most wonderful thing happened – it actually did get better. My baby started sleeping more. I had more energy. I made some wonderful mom friends. I got out and did things. I started cooking again. I looked forward to finding meaningful ways to pass the time with my son. I watched in delight as Silas grew and blossomed before my eyes, changing from a tiny bundle of newness to a spirited and joyful little boy.

A great resource that helped me throughout my maternity leave was Baby Play for Every Day: 365 activities for the first year (DK Publishing). It provides developmentally appropriate, stimulating and fun activities for each day of your baby’s first year. You can go through it from beginning to end or simply pick what works best for you and your baby’s unique temperament. The suggestions are easy, creative and cost-effective. This book helped me make the most of my time with Silas, allowing me to focus on helping him learn and develop while making meaningful memories. It took the research and planning out of my hands and when you’re a new parent, anything that does that is a lifesaver.

Indoor Play

Winter in Canada with a baby can leave you feeling like a bear in hibernation. Thankfully Baby Play for Every Day provides plenty of ideas on how to keep your baby busy with everyday household objects. Use a mirror to make silly faces or tickle your baby with a scarf. Play peekaboo with a towel or make homemade maracas with food containers and rice. Get crafty by making a bubble bottle using water, dish soap and food colouring.

When Silas was a newborn he loved the shadow show idea, staring in fascination at the light and moving shapes on the wall. Now that he’s on the move, one of the only things that slows him down is playing the pots and pans. He squeals with delight at the new noises. I also love the suggestion to make a game out of doing the laundry. Getting chores done while entertaining your little one is win-win! It’s great to discover you don’t need to go out and buy expensive toys. Most of what you need can be found right in your home.

Outdoor Play 

I love going out for walks with Silas, getting out of the house, enjoying the fresh air and discovering new things. Baby Play for Every Day reminded me to be intentional about introducing him to new experiences, like pointing out butterflies and snails, touching tree bark and leaves or smelling flowers and pine cones. We also love taking trips to the local playgrounds, so he can see the other kids and enjoy new movement and sensations like going on the swing and playing in the sand. Now that summer is here, we’ve been doing lots of water play like the book suggests. I scored a kiddie pool at a local garage sale so we can cool down in there with his favourite bath toys, blowing bubbles and practicing his hand-eye coordination.

Bonding and Memory Making Activities

Baby Play for Every Day emphasizes the importance of bonding and memory making activities. These have been some of my favourite things to do with Silas this year. Lots of the suggestions are simple, such as singing a lullaby, having breakfast together, or including yourself in photos with your baby, but its hard to remember to do these things in the hustle and bustle of life as a new parent. I also loved the idea of introducing family traditions. Now my husband and I make a point of always starting our day together in bed with our son and our dogs, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. It allows us to connect as a family and almost always ends in laughs and baby giggles. The book also suggests planning your first family vacation. We’re fitting that in this summer, taking Silas to Prince Edward County, where we spent our honeymoon.

Tips for Mom

A happy Mom makes for a happy baby. Baby Play for Every Day does a great job of reminding us of this. It includes practical tips for helping us to be at our best, such as to eat well, to rest when the baby naps or treat ourselves by refreshing our wardrobes. It also recommends joining a local parent and baby group, which I wholeheartedly agree with. The baby classes I attended this year were often a lifeline and a highlight of my week. I met some great mom friends and was able to socialize and expose my baby to new faces, toys and experiences.

Written by Sarah Topa

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