1) Get out and about
Here’s the first rule of Staying Sane on Maternity Leave: get out of the house at least once a day, even if it’s just to post a letter. When it’s freezing cold and only light for about 10 minutes a day, hibernating inside seems ever so appealing, but grab all those coats and blankets (yes, it will take a while to get ready) and take the plunge – the morale-boost that just five minutes of fresh air can provide is hard to match. What’s more, babies get bored inside too, and showing your new arrival the great outdoors will be a lovely bonding experience…
2) Go nappy-free
Newborns love the chance to kick around without their nappies – blowing bubbles on tummy and tickling feet optional. Just make sure you and your floor are sufficiently protected with towels and/or changing mats!
3) Be a bookworm
What could be better for winter bonding than curling up by the fire with a good book? Your little one can probably barely focus, let alone understand words, but don’t let this put you off – it’s never to early to read to your child. ‘Reading to babies is a great way to develop their language skills, encourage a love of reading, develop closer relationships and help them to understand the world,’ says Katherine Solomon of Bookstart, the literacy charity.
4) Say yes to a ‘baby socialising’ invitation
‘When I was pregnant, the thought that I’d ever attend a “coffee morning” filled me with horror,’ says Gemma, 34. ‘But after the birth I was so starved of adult company that I ventured gingerly to a local playgroup. I expected to feel like an outsider, but was pleasantly surprised – it was full of women like me, who just happened to also be mothers.’ Getting in touch with local mums can offer support, reassurance and laughs, and spending some time in adult company will then make the time with your baby that much more special. See your local press for details of playgroups, or contact the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) via www.nct.org.uk.
5) Enjoy bath-time fun
Try taking 10 minutes out for a soothing bath without your newborn protesting noisily. It’s impossible – so why not kill two birds with one stone by climbing into the tub with your little one? Skin-to-skin contact is a lovely way to get to know your baby, and she’ll feel more confident in the water if mum’s there too. If you’re nervous about how you’re going to climb out, enlist your partner for exit duties.
6) Make contact
If ever you needed an excuse to gaze lovingly at your baby while feeding, changing or just having a cuddle, this is it. Researchers have found that your baby’s brain is particularly stimulated by eye contact, especially from their mum or dad. ‘Don’t worry if your baby looks away briefly,’ says Michelle Emmanuel, a neonatal occupational therapist. ‘This is how they “reorganise” their thoughts and learn to calm themselves.’
7) ‘Wear’ your baby
As in, invest in a baby sling. This has the magical effect of a) calming a fractious newborn and b) bringing a feeling of delicious closeness. Going hands-free also means you’ll be able to get those niggling jobs done. Says Samantha, 29: ‘Within days of buying a Baby Bjorn I was able to make lunch, unload the dishwasher and speak on the phone – all at the same time.’ Snuggling up could also save on central heating bills during the winter months!
8) Go to the pictures
Small babies like two things: dark, warm places and lots of noise. This makes the cinema a great place to spend time with a newborn, giving you an easy way to keep up with the outside world and feel like a normal adult. If you’re concerned about upsetting fellow matinée watchers, many cinemas now hold special ‘Bringing up Baby’ screenings. See your local cinema or press for details.
9) Do a ‘non-baby’ activity
Don’t feel that you can’t do anything with a newborn in tow – you should be making the most of it while she’s still portable and not wreaking toddler mayhem! ‘Once I’d made a tentative journey on the bus, I realised we could go anywhere,’ says Amy, 31. ‘I met colleagues for lunch, went to a gallery, and even did a bit of shopping.’
10) Be creative at home
When you’re new to the world, even day-to-day objects are full of wonder – a squeaky ball, some crunchy paper, your handbag. ‘When I dangle my keys in front of my son Kieran, he squeals with delight,’ says Ellie, 24. ‘And he finds the egg-timer equally exciting. It’s certainly cheaper than going to Toys R Us!’ Getting creative with household objects is also a great way to teach your newborn about the world around them in the comfort of your own home.
11) Book a babyfriendly break
The thought of packing up a week’s worth of nappies, wipes, formula and babygrows is enough to make any new parent weak at the knees. But if you do have the chance (and the money!) for a winter getaway with your baby, the change of scenery can be wonderfully refreshing for both of you. Perhaps you could just visit relatives for a night – your baby will love getting to know her extended family.
12) Have a PJ day
If the idea of all this activity leaves you feeling exhausted, there is another tack – creating a cosy cocoon at home for you and your newborn. ‘Daisy and I have frequent “PJ” days, where we both stay in our nighties,’ says Amanda, 39. ‘I think babies are so cute and huggable when they’re in their babygrows, and anything less to do in the day (like getting dressed!) scores points with me.’ You’ll be free to snuggle together in peace!
13) Get some perspective
It’s hard to believe when you’re in the middle of it, especially if you’re stuck in the exhausted cycle of broken nights, but these long winter days don’t go on forever. Within six weeks, six months or a year, you’ll be back at work/back in your jeans/ spending your days with a responsive little person who smiles, laughs and is learning to talk. You just have to take it on trust – she’ll be amazing!
14) Get in touch
‘Massaging your baby makes her feel loved, promotes better sleep and helps circulation and the immune system,’ says the International Association of Infant Massage. On top of these blissful benefits, going to a massage class is great for bonding and is another opportunity to meet mums with babies the same age. Find a local class at www.iaim.org.uk.
15) Strike up the band
As in, sing and dance – preferably at the same time. There is no voice your baby loves more than yours, no more comforting pair of arms. ‘Poppy is a particular fan of Strictly Come Dancing,’ says Faye, 30. ‘Our footwork is coming along rather nicely.’