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PSA: Maternity leave is not a vacation


So your maternity leave is drawing near. Exciting! No doubt you’re putting the final touches on your nursery, finishing up at work (to the resounding colleague chorus of “enjoy your break!”), and meal-prepping your way to the finish line. Just a big, tough day of birth to get through, and then you can relax into mom life for a few months, right?

Um, no. 

I cannot stress this enough:

Maternity. Leave. Is. Not. A. Vacation.

It’s honestly more work than a full day of Zoom meetings with your camera turned off so you can furiously reply to emails and get work done in the background. (Ever been there?)

This heads-up is not designed to scare you, but to help you set realistic expectations for your mat leave. (For example, I’d like to let Past Steph know that she won’t write that novel she thinks she’ll punch out between naps. She won’t even start it, poor naive sweetie.)

Here’s the thing about maternity leave.

It’s more work than a full-time job

When your colleagues tell you to “enjoy your break”, you have permission to laugh in their faces. Mat leave isn’t a ‘break’ in any sense of the word. Except in that it might actually break YOU.

A recent LinkedIn post I stumbled upon summed up perfectly the real work of caring for a newborn. The woman broke down a day of mat leave as follows, and I’ve added my notes:

> Feeding for 8 hours per day 

Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, that’s how long you might spend on this in the first month. Newborns feed 8–12 times a day, sometimes for up to an hour at a time!

> Settling, soothing and changing diapers for 5 hours per day

There’s lots of poop to deal with, and SO much settling to be done. (Hello, I rocked my son to sleep for the first 4 months of his life and survived to tell the tale.)

> Cleaning for 2–3 hours per day

We’re talking wiping benches, throwing dishes into a dishwasher, and mountains upon mountains of poop and vomit-covered laundry. SO MUCH LAUNDRY! It’s unavoidable.

> Sleeping for 5–6 hours per day

Much less than the recommended minimum seven hours per day for adults, and usually taken in measly increments of 1.5–3 hours.

> That leaves a spare 2 hours per day

But this time is generally capped at 30–45 mins, so you have to spend it wisely. (Do you shower? Squeeze in a workout? Have a cup of coffee? Or sob into your pillow?)

Asking for help might allow you to fit in more, and we highly recommend you do this. But as you can see, this gig is rough. New moms are severely overworked, not enjoying a relaxing holiday. 

It’s emotionally intense

For first-time moms especially, the postpartum period is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s the highest of highs when your baby smiles for the first time. But it’s the lowest of lows when you’re trying to work out why the f*ck they’re STILL CRYING! (Spoiler: Babies just cry sometimes.)

Protecting your emotional wellbeing is vital during this time. And while a holiday might be just the thing you crave, your reality is far from it.

It’s BORING!

Life with a newborn is busy! But it’s generally the boring kind of busy. Baby admin. Feed, burp, settle, repeat. Day in, day out. So much work, but not really getting anything done. It can do your head in, especially if you’re a to-do list fiend.

My tip: Write a to-do list anyway. Even if it consists of the simplest of things: Eat lunch. Walk around the block. Load the dishwasher. Get that mundane sh*t DONE and tick it OFF. YES!

You could even take it a step further and write yourself a maternity leave bucket list. (But give yourself a break if when writing a novel doesn’t work out.)

So here’s the plus side.

It’s hard, but it’s not all bad.

You’ll probs make new friends

Friendships can get awkward when you become a mom (especially if your friends aren’t in the same stage of life). But while mat leave is far from endless brunch dates and mothers’ group coffee sessions, you probably will pick up some new pals along the journey. Us moms are a friendly bunch. That, or we’re just starved of adult conversation. Your maternity leave is a key time to chat up the other moms at the playground. Look at you, networking!

You’ll watch SO much Netflix

According to New York Magazine “almost every new parent remembers what TV shows they watched during their tour of duty”. I personally smashed:

  • Gilmore Girls
  • New Girl
  • Dawson’s Creek
  • Every famous musician documentary available (Tay Tay, Beyonce, etc.)
  • The Twilight Series.

And there are probably others I’ve completely wiped from memory because I watched them primarily while pumping breast milk at 4am. While you don’t have a lot of downtime during maternity leave, you can often throw on some viewing material in the background while you’re doing various baby tasks.

This is a great time to watch content you’ve always wanted to watch. Or, you know, do stuff other than watching Netflix, which I suppose is also an option. Listening to music or podcasts might be more your thing.

You’ll realize what a badass you are

The relentlessness of your work during maternity leave is a shock. The daily physical and emotional exertion is overwhelming. But even as you baulk at the unfairness of it all (why doesn’t your partner have to be feeding every two hours?!), you’ll probably be struck by what you’re evidently capable of. You’re doing it! You can endure so much more than you thought you could. It’s an epic feeling.

And if you do end up returning to work after your ‘break’, you’ll do it as a much stronger, wiser woman, who’s capable of doing damn good work on three hours of sleep and 12 cups of coffee.

Read next: How my opinion of working parents has changed (now that I am one)


The Raising Children Network, Your newborn’s first week: What to expect

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, How Much Sleep Do I Need?

The Raising Children Network, Crying: babies

The Cut, How You’ll Actually Spend Your Maternity Leave

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