Back to work after baby

Although renewed autonomy and adult interaction found at work can be a welcome relief from the complexities of postpartum life, most women find picking up the briefcase or returning to the keyboard after maternity leave is at least somewhat stressful. Naturally, it’s tough to leave your baby. Of course you will feel (often) exhausted and overwhelmed. 

The experience doesn’t have to be miserable, however. With a little preparation, a lot of honesty, good help, and a healthy dose of confidence, the return to work after baby can go quite smoothly. 

Set yourself up for success.

The postpartum period can be intense, to say the least, and maternity leave goes by fast. Oh—and that’s right—you have a new baby to care for. 

It would be unwise, if not impossible, to try checking off the entire back-to-work to do list in the weeks following baby’s birth. It makes sense to get as organized as possible while you still have the time during pregnancy.

Freeze meals and fine-tune your support system. Research childcare, buy your breast pump, and make all necessary arrangements with your employer weeks before the estimated due date.

Plan for as much leave as possible, including the addition of sick days and vacation time. While prenatal planning will give you a head start, there will still be last minute preparations, unforeseen obstacles, and decisions that can only be made after meeting your baby.

Find the best childcare situation.

Carrie Jarvis, an administrator at a Twin Cities urban high school says, “For me, this made all the difference. I wasn’t too worried about my twins because I really like and trust our nanny. I advise new parents to start looking for childcare early so you don’t feel rushed into making an extremely important decision. And, do what feels best for you!”

Whether you go with a nanny, private home daycare, or a childcare center (and all certainly have their perks) it is imperative that you feel completely comfortable with your choice. This is a deeply personal decision. Use your shiny new maternal instincts and let your gut be your guide. Search tirelessly. The right fit is out there. 

Understand that your thoughts may shift post-pregnancy. The qualities you valued before childbirth might be completely different from what seems important after. Have a back up plan or two in case your initial choice doesn’t work out.

Be honest. 

Be frank and clear in your communications with everyone. Air out issues with your partner. Talk to your childcare provider about any feelings of frustration or resentment. Discuss expectations, your exact job description, and any new personal challenges with your employer.

Be honest with yourself! This is hard, and you will feel conflicted. There will be days when you will question your decision to return to work. There may even be moments when you will question your decision to become a parent. Thoughts happen spontaneously. Allow yourself to have them.  

Amy Marga, associate professor of theology at Luther Seminary says, “Let yourself feel all the complex emotions. It feels good, it feels bad, you cry, you miss your baby, you are happy to be showered and dressed nicely. It’s so complicated. Let yourself feel.” 

As for that first month back to work, Marga advises to, “let yourself perform at a C+ level, don’t try to perform at an A level!” Be honest, not just about your thoughts and feelings, but about your personal limitations as well. 

Advocate. 

Insist on a clean and comfortable lactation environment for you and the other nursing women you work with. Encourage male co-workers to take up the cause. Educate non-parents. 

Do not let an unsupportive work environment interrupt the bond of breastfeeding.A mother’s milk will not let down if she is not relaxed. 

Of course, speaking up is easier said than done as the working world still treats mothers unfairly. Many see pumping breaks and sick children as burdens that are bigger than the benefit of an employee’s output. For this reason, many women bury their maternal side at the workplace—to the detriment of their emotional health and their baby’s—because they are afraid of losing a job.

The truth is, for every minor inconvenience that accompanies motherhood, there is an amazing attribute. Multitasking anyone? Compassion? Moms are amazing, but do themselves a disservice when they pretend to be something they’re not.  

It’s time we started breaking down walls rather than attempting to shatter the glass ceiling. Women need to be seen as women. Advocacy need not be loud and irreverent. Simply ask for what you need, and for what you deserve. 

Prioritize your own health. 

A working mom rarely gets 10 minutes to herself. The continuous transition from office life to family life can be consuming. Sadly, the new norm is a 50 to 60 hour workweek, with the expectation that take-home work be completed over the weekend. Now more than ever, a woman is expected to be available to both her family and her employer 24/7. 

In order to keep up, a career mom must make health the number one priority, before—difficult as it may seem—work and family. 

I recently spoke with Jewelia Wagner, an OB/GYN at Clinic Sofia in Edina. When we met, Dr. Wagner was just finishing her second full day back on the job, a mere seven weeks after giving birth. Not surprisingly, she told me that the sleep deprivation she experienced throughout her medical residency was nothingcompared to that of the first few weeks of motherhood. 

Wagner also says she has been extremely conscientious about personal preventative health measures—hydration, hand washing, and the flu shot are some of the precautions she mentions. Like many mothers, those who work outside the home in particular, Dr. Wagner can’t afford to get sick. She
needs to be there for both her patients and her baby. 

Mothers also need to remember to create time and space for emotional health: for love, laughter, friendship, and meditation. You are traveling down a dark path when you start tapping into your emergency reserves. Fill yourself up with what makes you feel good, so that you may give to your best self to your baby. 

Let it go.

The guilt, the self-scrutiny, the frustration: let it all go. 

St. Paul birth doula and apprenticing midwife Kate Andrew advises new families to “make the best decisions for your circumstances, and know that those conflicting feelings you’re having are indicative of good parenting and a big, love-filled heart.”

Ilene Moore of Minneapolis, a healthcare consultant, pediatrician, and first time mother of twins adds, “Whether you have to work or choose to work, you might as well choose to enjoy having a bit of time where you aren’t responsible for your little ones.”

Sometimes, happiness is a choice. Give yourself permission to enjoy your life. Be proud of your accomplishments, both inside and outside of the home. Ignore—completely—the back-to-work versus stay-at-home debate. You, and you alone, know what is best for your role in your family. 

Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula at Welcome Baby Care in Edina.