Returning to work after having a baby can be a challenging experience emotionally, physically, and logistically. Mothers commonly feel guilty leaving their babies at home, stressed about not balancing everything as well as they’d like, and exhausted from trying to do too much on too little sleep. If this is you, know that you’re not alone. It’s a difficult transition, but many women have done it and there are ways to help make it more manageable.
Planning ahead will help you feel much more at ease once your baby is born and when you have to return to work. If you know you want to start a family, plan far in advance and try to find a job with great maternity leave perks and benefits. When job hunting, look on companies’ websites to learn about what they offer as far as maternity leave, paid time off, etc. Companies know that their competitive packages attract excellent employees and therefore usually make that information easy to find.
Once you you are pregnant and planning the length of your maternity leave, take into account state and federal policies that could extend your time with your new baby (such as short-term disability or unpaid leave time from the Family and Medical Leave Act). Once you determine the length of your leave, inform your boss and team members how long you’ll be gone. Medical professionals recommend waiting as long as possible before returning to work, a minimum of 6 weeks. This is for the mother and baby’s benefit. The mother needs time to form some kind of schedule with her baby and for her body to heal. Monica McHenry Svets, an OB-GYN in the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology said,
When deciding the date of your first day back to work, consider returning on a Thursday instead of a Monday. Then the weekend will only be a couple days away. If it’s an option, you might even want to start a couple days before your maternity leave is over and just work half days to ease your way back in. You could then use the hours from those half days towards your first 40 hour week to make those days 6.5 hour days, and then do your first real 40 hour schedule the following week.
Find a daycare or babysitter months in advance; the best daycares commonly have long waitlists. You want to have everything in place before you have your baby so you don’t have to devote time to looking and researching once your baby is here. Talk to friends and family about babysitters, nannies, and daycares they would recommend. Make a list of things you want in a childcare provider and interview those you are considering with those criteria in mind. Always consider their experience, references, and record. Have back-ups you could go to for days when your sitter is sick, your daycare closes for maintenance, or you have to stay late at work.
If you are planning on nursing, you’re going to have to pump at work to keep up your supply. If this is your plan, pump and freeze milk in preparation for returning to work. That way you always have a store to pull from and if you aren’t able to pump as much one day because of meetings, you still have plenty ready in the freezer.
Before returning to work, call HR and ask if the company provides a lactation room. If not, ask how they can accommodate your needs. Most places in the U.S. are required to accommodate nursing mothers. See federal and state laws here.
Get your baby used to the bottle. Introduce it when your little one is between 2-4 weeks old, and use a low-flow nipple to simulate the breast as much as possible. Consider buying one pump to keep at home and a second at the office. You could invest in a steam bag to sterilize the pump parts in the microwave at work to avoid hand-washing. If you only buy one, try to find a professional looking bag you could transport the pump in to and from work. If you choose not to pump at work or if it’s not an option, you can still nurse mornings and nights and you can supplement with formula. Your supply will adjust to the times you feed your baby.
Keep extra nursing pads with you at work to avoid leaking through your shirt on days when your allotted pumping time gets delayed.
Starting work again will be a big change for you and your baby, but there are a few things you can do to ease the transition.
Prepare your baby
When you have a job and a family to take care of, it’s hard to give both the attention and time you would like. However, making small changes in your daily life can make a big difference in the long-run. Here are some suggestions to help you balance the two:
Sometimes the first couple days don’t seem so hard. In fact, maybe they will seem like a nice breather from the spit-up, the crying, and the blowouts. However, often times after that initial relief, leaving your child every day gets harder and harder emotionally. It’s very common for working mothers to feel guilty.
Amy Rees Anderson shared on Forbes.com,
“Oh, the guilt. All working parents have the added burden of the never-ending guilt. When you are at work you feel guilty for not being at home. When you are at home you feel guilty for not being at work. So basically you live in a 24-hour guilt cycle that never ends. Until one day when you finally accept the fact that you will never be able to do it all – but that is actually OK! It’s not about doing it all, it’s about doing the best you can with what you’ve got. So, rather than constantly feeling guilty and stressed in your pursuit of balance, turn your focus toward doing the very best you can do every day with the time you have.”
Be patient with yourself and forgive yourself when you don’t get everything done. Another working mom, Stephanie Tsales, wrote on her blog:
“I wanted to walk back in the door as the firecracker that I was pre-kid. And that is profoundly unrealistic. You won’t be the employee you once were – and that’s OK. Sure – you’re not the first one in the office and the last one to leave anymore – but you’re a better leader, coworker, and employee now because you’re a mom. Your multitasking skills have gone through the roof. Your compassion and empathy are higher than ever before. And don’t even get me started on your time management skills! It might take you a few weeks to realize your new attributes, and it might take your employer a few weeks to recognize the value that the new-you brings to the table. Expecting to walk into work the same person you were when you left is the professional equivalent of expecting to wear your pre-pregnancy jeans out of the hospital after having the baby. Ain’t gonna happen.”
Be realistic and be positive. Give yourself some time to get in a groove that works for you and your family. Surround yourself with positive people. Avoid spending time with peers that are constantly complaining, venting, and making negative comments. That kind of attitude is contagious and will bring you down, which you can’t afford to let happen with so much on your plate. Just do the best you can and look on the bright side of things. Focus on all of the things you are doing, and not the things you’re not doing. Just do the best you can and let that be enough.