Back to Work After Baby
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It’s hard, but planning can ease the transition
Transitioning back to work after you’ve just had a baby is tough. I wanted to spend all day and night with my baby girl, but after a very short time, I was launched right back into my work routine. It was a bit bumpy and, at times, provoked a few teary episodes of frustration and sleeplessness. Ultimately, I came out of it with only a few metaphorical bruises.
If you are able to take time off from work for at least three months after you have your baby, I urge you to do so. You will be able to relish more moments with your little one, and you’ll be so glad for the extra weeks of transition time and sleep while you and your baby bond and get to know each other.
Discuss your plan with your employer
If you work full or part time for an employer and receive benefits, make sure that, before the birth of your child, you sit with someone from the human resources (HR) department and go over your pregnancy terms and time off, and sort out any extra details (including what could happen if your baby arrives early).
If you work from home, own your own business, or freelance, you will need to figure out a plan that will keep you from losing too much time or money. Many women feel pressured not to tell their clients about their pregnancy, fearing that they won’t be hired in the future. Discussing your pregnancy with your clients is a decision you will need to make, and it will be different for each woman based on individual circumstances. I was back working part time three weeks after I had my C-section out of necessity. I was working full time at six weeks. Thankfully, I was able to work from home much of that time and could still be close by my baby. The long hours I spent away from my baby outside the house were still very hard, but they were manageable.
Solo Moms rely on child-care providers to be Super Solo Moms during the workday, multitasking and managing our lives. We need support and extra hands, and sometimes we want a body double. Start early, and discuss your options for child care with family and friends. You may decide to use a family member or friend, day care, a nanny, an au pair, or a combination of people to help you look after your baby. If you feel worried about sending your baby to a particular place for child care, that it could possibly be an unsafe environment, you might be correct. Your intuition will be on high alert. Talk to your doctor, social worker, friends, or someone in your community who can help you make an informed decision about child care. Sometimes the best daytime care for your baby will not be from family members but from other reliable people. When choosing someone, just keep in mind that health issues and old age can create a dangerous situation for your child when the caretaker cannot keep up with the demands of the job. Don’t ever feel bad about putting your child first. In the end, it is your child, and you get to call the shots.
Breastfeeding versus formula
Breastfeeding after you go back to work takes some preparation. If you are planning to breastfeed, be prepared to start pumping as soon as you are back home from the hospital. You will want to speak with your medical insurance company to obtain the free pump that is provided to all women within 30 days of their expected due date. Your insurance company will have a list of the brands and models that are available to you at no charge. Pumping and freezing your breast milk will allow you to ensure that your baby is getting all the food and nutrients he or she needs during the hours you are at work. Most babies need upward of 24 ounces of milk each day. As your supply increases, your pumping sessions will become more efficient and you will express more milk each time. It is recommended to have at least one week of breast milk stored in the freezer at all times. Use handy storage bags to freeze your milk, and mark them with the date and amount for easy use in the future.
Continue to pump each day once you’re back at work. A pumping schedule will keep you less stressed and help you plan your workday with ease. Try pumping soon after arriving at work, at lunch, midafternoon, and right before you leave for the day. If you can keep two sets of flanges and pumping parts at work, you can rotate them and always have a clean set ready to go. You can use any of several methods to clean the pump parts, including sterilization in the microwave, boiling, and washing. Many women keep their parts clean in a sealed airtight bag in the freezer to kill germs. Just be aware that if you are storing your breast milk in a communal fridge, your colleagues may be startled to see your “stash.” I use a handy insulated lunch bag with two gel freezer packs to keep my milk cool and “under wraps” during work hours. You can rotate two bags for your milk storage every day. One bag will be going to your child-care professional or family member when you pick up your baby at the end of the day with your newly pumped breast milk for the next morning, and the second bag will contain used and empty bottles so you can take them home for washing and to work the next day.
One more tip . . . buy a nursing bra, or make one from an old sports bra by cutting two holes around the nipple areas. Insert the pump flanges on both sides and now you have a hands-free system. I have conducted phone meetings, written emails, eaten lunch, and done countless other tasks while sitting during my pumping sessions.
Formula is a must for many women who are unable to produce enough breast milk, have health complications that inhibit breastfeeding, or have decided to stop breastfeeding. For some women, pumping and breastfeeding are very stressful and take up too much time during a busy workday. Your employer is legally bound to provide you with a clean, private, and comfortable pumping room at work. If you want to pump during work and don’t have a safe and clean environment, speak with someone in your HR department to resolve the situation. If you have decided that formula is the best choice for your baby, take some time and try out the brand of milk formula you plan to use before your first days at work. Your baby could be sensitive to some of the ingredients, including soy, dairy, and wheat, so it will give you some extra time to weed out problematic formulas. You may also want to choose an organic formula or find that you have other reasons for preferring one brand over another.
Now that you have made it through the first month or so of your new role as a Solo Mom, you’ve likely realized that getting a full night’s sleep is something of the past. Those eight-hour sleep marathons have been replaced with countless wakings for feedings and diaper changes while floating around your home with your eyes half open and wondering if you will ever feel rested again in your adult life. Once work starts back up, you will have even more on your plate, and it will be important to have your brain well rested. Finding precious hours to sleep will be very important, probably more important than anything else you may have to do during the day after your baby is safe and asleep. Plus sleep helps you lose weight, strengthen your immune system, regenerate your body, and produce more breast milk. Take opportunities to take a nap or go to bed a few hours earlier. You and your baby are going to need to get onto a sleep schedule. Start early on. After two months, your baby will start to be ready for sleep training. There are many methods: cry it out (otherwise known as the Ferber method), no-cry sleep solutions (such as those suggested by Dr. William Sears), and more. Whatever you choose, it will help you get more of the sleep you crave, and your baby will be happier with regular naps and a good sleep schedule.
Errands, housework, and a social life
At the beginning, when you’ve just gotten your baby home, errands, housework, and having any kind of social life will be very hard to accomplish. Ask for help as much as possible. One mother informed me that she told anyone who came for a visit that they could visit with the baby, but they also would be put to work cleaning, running errands, or doing any little thing that could help her get through her week as a Solo Mom. This tactic may also help you during your transition as you get back to a regular work schedule with your little one. Plan your errands around similar locations, and try to cut yourself some slack. Delivery services such as Amazon, Diapers.com, and other forms of online shopping will help you save time. Keep your house in order by doing 10 minutes of cleaning every day. And if you are overwhelmed and tired, it is always OK to ask for help.
Your social life may take a backseat for the first six months after your child is born. Stay in touch with friends while managing work and your baby by socializing during weekend daytime hours. Plan baby-friendly outings for brunch, museums, sports games, parks, shopping, coffee, and more. If you are brave enough to entertain friends at home, invite them over for a glass of wine after the baby is in bed or for coffee during the day on the weekend. Don’t overdo it. Your friends and family will understand if you don’t extend yourself as much.
Working from home
Lastly, try putting in some work hours at home, if possible, during your transition period. Talk with your boss, and explain that it will help you be more efficient and cause less stress having some work time at home. Working from home can be a wonderful experience when you have a baby, as long as you are able to get your work done and stay focused. You may want to employ a caretaker during your work hours so you can be efficient and meet deadlines. Staying home will give you plenty of room to navigate breastfeeding and stress levels—and even help you get in a few extra kisses during the day from your new, beautiful baby.
Rebecca Cherry is an accomplished musician, writer, and creative seeker. She is enjoying her new role as a Solo Mom to her baby girl. You can follow her on Twitter at @CherryRebecca and Facebook at Rebecca Cherry.
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