by: Alyssa Kapaona
You’ve created life, and no matter what your experience (joyful, emotional, overwhelming, or all of the above) you are most likely dealing with transition. No doubt, one of the biggest transitions for moms is going back to work. I’ve completed this journey two times myself. It was different both times and never easy. I also spoke with two close friends, Jenny (mother of three) and Kehau (first time mom), about their recent transitions back to the office.
While there is definitely something systematically wrong with parental leave and affordable childcare in our country (an article for another time), hopefully these tips can help get you through what can be a challenging, yet rewarding journey.
Know your rights.
Knowing your workplace policies about parental leave is definitely important before your baby is born. The United States is the only first world country without paid maternity leave (again, another article for another time), so be sure to know your rights regarding what kind of leave you are eligible for in your place of employment. Leave availability depends on one’s employer, so sit down with your Human Resources representative, your boss, etc. Basically talk to anyone and everyone who might have authority over your leave to make sure everyone is on the same page. And don’t forget to get everything in writing, just in case.
Also use this time to have open and honest conversations with your supervisor. Let them know your expectations and listen to theirs. Try to clarify any vague language that may come up. With my second daughter, my boss told me that when I came back I needed to “hit the ground running.” That was a little intimidating to me, but once I asked more questions, I realized we were on the same page with our expectations.
This would also be a good time to investigate your rights for nursing breaks if you plan on breastfeeding. In the U.S., employers of a certain size are supposed to allow time and space for nursing mothers for up to a year after the child’s birth. Knowing this information ahead of time will make your journey back to work a lot smoother.
Didn’t figure any of this out before baby was born? Don’t stress, but get some answers ASAP. There is no time like the present!
Getting organized is another tip that can be worked on prior to going back to work, but will ultimately help with the overall transition when that time comes. Most moms I asked agreed that the most important thing to have figured out when going back to work is childcare. Ensure that you have done your due diligence on selecting a childcare provider but also have qualified back ups. When my youngest daughter was 4 months old, her babysitter got into a serious car accident. Not only was our sitter injured (she is 100% recovered now, thank goodness!) but we also had to find someone for over 6 months while she recovered. It was not easy and a humbling reminder of how much you will rely on your childcare provider.
Routines are another thing you want to try to organize as best a possible. For example, what will your mornings be like? Make a reasonable schedule that has about 20-30 minutes of “wiggle room” in case there is an explosive diaper, or two…. I would also recommend practicing the routine a week before you start work to see if you need to make any adjustments. It’s really helpful to know how long things take you. For example, morning makeup routine takes 10 minutes, feeding the baby in the morning usually takes 20 minutes, etc.
See Figure 1 (below) for a sample schedule. Of course this will look different for everyone, and it might look different depending on the day of the week and depending on the kind of day you and/or baby is having. While the routine helps, try not to get stuck in it. Being flexible and adjusting will definitely become part of the routine. Also, please note this sample schedule is set up for one person; I would recommend you delegate any tasks that you can to a partner, friend, or family member. For example, when people ask if you need anything, don’t be shy to take them up on their request. The easiest one for me was to take people up on bringing dinner over or doing dishes. Find the things in your routine that you can let go of and delegate, and then do it. As they say, “It takes a village.”
Finally, I would encourage you to write out your schedule with as much detail as possible, including what you will have in your various bags to help you remember what to bring. And trust me, you will have plenty of bags. As a sleep deprived mommy, you will need all the reminders you can get. This will help you, your partner, and/or other people involved with your childcare to ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction.
Figure 1: Sample Schedule
For the ladies who are nursing, this is hands down one of the trickiest adjustments when going back to work. “Honestly, pumping was the hardest thing for me,” Kehau, a close friend and first time mother shared with me. “Due to my schedule and job, I often have to pump in the car which is not ideal.” To make things easier on yourself, make sure first and foremost, that you have good equipment. Hands-free pumps and/or pumping bras are highly recommended. It is worth the investment. Then, as previously mentioned, make sure you have a good place to pump (although sometimes due to your circumstances, you might not have a choice and you just go into survival mode and do what you need to do).
Also get ready to create, you guessed it, another routine! Making your pumping experience standard will help you to not forget things, and also make it easier for your workplace and coworkers. For example, try not to deviate from your pumping timeline too much. This is beneficial for everyone involved and eliminates confusion around your schedule. Also, save 5-10 minutes for cleanup and milk storage. If you have access to a fridge, you can store your pumping parts in a clean freezer bag and reuse them. If that creeps you out, steamer bags or special pumping wipes that clean your pumping parts are also convenient.
If you’re up for it, make pumping a bonding time for you and your baby. With my second baby, I used my pumping time to look at her pictures and write notes about what she was doing (milestones, funny stories, etc.). However, listen to your body and do what is best for you. With my first baby, I was more emotional and looking at her pictures made me teary. I actually ended up spending more pumping time checking my Fantasy Football roster, which became a nice break for me. I even wound up winning that year! Regardless of what you do, take that time to relax and take a breath. You definitely deserve it!
Get ready for anything, including all the emotions.
“When I dropped off my baby for the first time at the sitter, I got more emotional than I thought,” Kehau shared. “I couldn’t stop thinking about him the whole day.” Many moms will feel like this. It is good to take stock of your feelings, but also have faith that you did all you could do to provide the best care for your little one.
Babies are a blessing, but sometimes there are also unexpected circumstances that come up where pregnancies and births don’t go as planned. My best friend Jenny is an amazing mother of three, who just gave birth to a son. In the middle of the pregnancy, Jenny found out her baby had a rare heart condition and would need specific care in California. She had to fly from Hawaiʻi to California to give birth and stay five months after the birth to get her newborn the proper medical care that wasn’t available to him in Hawaiʻi.
Needless to say, her plans for going back to work drastically changed. However, it was an inspiration to watch Jenny because everything she did and all the sacrifices she made put her baby and family first. It is definitely in times like these where you see what is really important in life and usually work becomes a distant second to your new baby. If you are experiencing a high risk pregnancy, definitely take all the time you need for your family. In my experience, it is something you will not regret.
Finally, if you are feeling extra blue (teary all the time, extra worried/anxious, signs of depression, etc.) then seek out professional help. There is no shame in taking care of your own mental health because that will also help provide your baby the best care possible. A happy, healthy mom will lead to a happy, healthy baby!
Stay calm and self care.
At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do to be organized and only so much you can control. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to do things the “right” way, just find the right way for you. When I first went back to work with my first born, I felt pressure to make dinner for our family every night. I loved doing that before I had the baby and it was a sense of normalcy for me. However, I realized my life was so much easier when I utilized ready prepared meals or take out, that I gave in and just embraced that change for awhile. I got back to cooking when she was older. Letting go of that expectation gave me more time to snuggle my baby, sleep, and relax. It truly made all the difference in the world and I’m glad I took the time to soak her up, because the cliche is true, they grow so fast!
I also used a little mantra that helped: “Take care of yourself, then take care of baby.” There were so many times, when I would hear my baby cry, but I know I needed to do something small first (like pee, take a sip of water, or a bite of food). I used this mantra to remind myself to take care of that small thing I needed to do. Use your best judgment, but as long as baby was in a safe place, I did what I needed to do and then came right back to feed/soothe/change a diaper as soon as I was done. We would both feel better in the end because I wasn’t stressed when I was tending to her.
It may be a long, hard road, but with great reward! You got this. Be purposeful with how you make your transition back to work and enjoy the ride, mama!