maternity leave smMaternity leave is time to take a break from the work world and bond with your baby, but there are some pitfalls on that new parenting path. If you’re planning now for your post-partum life, here are ways to make the most of your new mommyhood.

Expect those first weeks to be hard for all of you. You're a chronically sleep-deprived person engaged in the most intense on-the-job training you’ll ever experience. At the same time, your baby is adjusting to a new life outside the womb and the baby’s father is adjusting to being a dad.

Lower your expectations, even if you’re always the high achiever. A good day might be when you get a shower while you’re alone at home with your baby. (Hint: infant carriers work great in almost any bathroom.) Don’t plan big outings; your energy level may only accommodate a stop at a drive-thru window instead of a sit-down meal at a restaurant.

Before your baby arrives, create a maternity leave “me time” list of novels you’ve been meaning to read or a TV series you wanted to binge and then use this list when you have some quiet moments at home. Stop at the bookstore, fill up your Kindle or download audio books or podcasts. Library books aren’t the best choice because you might not be able to return them on time.

If you feel comfortable leaving your baby with someone for a few hours, make that alone time special. Get your nails done or grab a coffee to-go and find a comfortable spot to relax at the park. The change of scenery and adult interaction will do you good.

Speaking of meeting adults, take time to explore your neighborhood. Plan a daily stroll with your baby and look for places where mothers gather. You might make a friend who’s also a new mom.

Observe “Fearless Friday” or pick any day of the week when you’ll do one thing that scares you about new parenthood. It might be driving with your baby for the first time or breastfeeding in public or changing a diaper in the trunk of your car. These small achievements can build confidence in your ability to handle motherhood.

Take your baby to the movies. You might enjoy an early matinee while your baby sleeps in a carrier next to you. And plan to do it twice, in case the first time is a fail.

Keep a journal of your new life as a mother. It’s a great way to unpack your thoughts after a hectic day and years from now it might make for fascinating reading. If writing isn’t your thing, record voice memos with your phone and talk it out on a daily basis.

The best advice for maternity leave is to live in the moment. Instead of replaying what happened yesterday or fretting about what’s coming tomorrow, learn to be fully engaged in the present and enjoy life with your baby. Being present is a skill that can also pay dividends when you go back to work because you’ll be able to focus on your job and not worry about being away from your child.

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