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Maternity leave is always a hot topic in the news. With the pressures of work pitted against the importance of new mothers having time to bond with their new-borns, it can seem like an added stress and a recipe for disaster. Some employers take a very positive approach to maternity leave. For example, Netflix recently came out with the introduction of unlimited leave policy for new parents that allows them to take off as much time as they want after having a child.

The importance of adequate maternity leave for new mothers cannot be understated. A recent study conducted by Harvard University showed that paid maternity leave following the birth of a first child appears to have positive benefits on women’s mental health. A similar study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that women with 3-month-old infants who worked full time, reported feeling greater rates of depression, stress, poor health and overall family stress than mothers who were able to stay home.

Undoubtedly, motherhood has increasingly changed over time. 60% of mothers with children under 6 now work outside the home compared to just 19% in the 1950s. Mothers today juggle far more roles and commitments in their life than previous generations. It can be difficult for anyone employed in a full time job to find balance between their work and life, and that’s before the arrival of a new-born.

Societal changes also mean that more family members often live further from each other than in previous generations. This has led to a difference in how previous generations may have been supported following the birth of a new baby.

A recent online study of 3,000 UK mums conducted by private health insurance provider AXA PPP and parenting organisation Netmums revealed that nearly a quarter of new mums (24 per cent) have no family living close by to help them adjust to motherhood, and over a quarter (28 per cent) even said they felt lonely after having their baby.

Maternity leave time should then be well spent in getting everything prepared and regaining that control over the situation to help you ease into motherhood and minimise any unnecessary stressful situations.

Tips for managing stress and mental wellbeing during maternity leave:

Manage your expectations

Many women prefer to work as late as possible before starting their maternity leave. Make sure to get at least two weeks at home before the birth to prepare. It’s a good idea to rest as much as you can at this stage and not waste your energy. It’s after the birth that maternity leave is really crucial. It takes time for a woman to get over such a big physical event. The first few weeks of maternity leave after the birth may pass by in a blur of sleep deprivation, soreness and getting used to the demands of a tiny child. If it’s your first baby it’s a steep learning curve.

Meet other mums

Getting together with other mums, dads and babies will enhance your maternity leave experience. It is comforting to be able to talk to someone who is going through the same thing you are. It will also give you a list of contacts to swap baby tips with. You may have made friends at your antenatal classes, which is ideal as they are at the same stage of bringing up children that you are.

Eat well

Eating well is good for your mind as well as your body. A healthy diet of omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, can lift your mood. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help smooth out mood swings and aid in fighting depression. Similarly, the essential amino acid tryptophan can boost your mood as well. Found in milk, poultry and even chocolate, Tryptophan helps to raise levels of the brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin which help you to sleep well, and boost your feelings of well-being.

The importance of exercise

Exercise is also important after pregnancy, gentle exercise, though. Swimming is an ideal form of exercise after pregnancy as it can help keep you toned, without being too hard on your joints. If you can’t get to a pool, walking is also good for you. Try taking a daily walk of at least 20 minutes. Exercise is also very important in improving your mood.

Talk about it

If you have concerns about your baby’s wellbeing, you can always turn to your midwife for reassurance. Don’t be afraid to admit how you may be feeling. If you are honest, you are more likely to get the support you need. Talk to your partner too. They may share similar worries, your partner may even have concerns you didn’t even consider. Talking about things can make you feel better. Finding time to rest is also important in dealing with the stress of this new situation. Listen to your body. If you’re feeling exhausted, go to bed early. It can be hard to find time to take a break, but you deserve time to yourself. Ask your partner, a friend or grandparents to look after your baby for the afternoon.

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