The notion of “working Mama” has always been a polarizing topic, but even more so if you are the one that is living the dilemma. Whether you are returning to work out of choice, or not, it is a difficult, emotional and practical challenge that is sprinkled with inner conflicts, self-induced guilt and judgment. Add to that the outside scrutiny, mostly from other Mamas, and it adds up to a lot of pressure. So how do you navigate back into the working world after you have your baby?
“I couldn’t figure out if I was running away or honouring myself. Or both,” Susan H. working Mama to Cindy
Let’s just consider something for a moment. Does society scrutinize men who return to work? Not generally. So why does it happen to women? Historically women managed their households; today many still do, but now we are supposed to do everything else as well. The idea of “superwoman” who can have it all and do it all is probably one of the worst ideals to try to live up to as a new Mama. Not only is it unrealistic, but also unfair. So how can you juggle it all? Here are my tried and tested strategies to help you navigate back into the work world without totally losing your mind.
1. There will never be a “right” time. Just like the decision when to have a baby, for most, there will never be an ideal time to return to work. Set yourself a realistic time frame, mentally and physically prepare and proceed. If it really doesn’t feel right, and you have the flexibility, then shift it. Chances are though that you will never feel completely “ready”, so try to pick a time and stick to it.
2. Create an evening routine. Work out a feed, bath, sleep, dream feed routine within a few weeks after giving birth. It will help you work towards alleviating the ongoing demands at the end of the day when you are most exhausted.
3. Catch up on lost sleep. Being sleep deprived is something that every parent has to deal with. No matter how well a routine is established surprises like growth spurts, teething etc can play havoc with your sleep. On the days it all goes pear shaped, try to make up for it by having an early night or grabbing naps where and when you can.
4. Feed your mind, body, and soul. You’ve got a big job to do and you’re going to need fuel to do it. Proper nutrition is key to keeping your energy levels up. So eat strategically at every meal by choosing wisely and packing in the vitamins and nutrients. And steer clear of energy zapping, sugary, quick fixes by having healthy snacks pre-made and on hand.
5. Choose your support. Surround yourself with those who believe in what you’re doing and support your decisions. It can be family, friends, co-workers etc. You will have enough of your own doubts you don’t need those that feed them. Instead, make time for those who lift you up and feed your positive energies not zap them.
6. Learn to say no. Your time is as valuable as anyone else’s and your demands many, so get used to saying “no”. Between juggling all your new roles the last thing you need to do is take on more responsibilities. So you may have to say no to things you used to do or decline a social invitation, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but you will build a thicker skin as time goes on, and you’ll significantly lower your stress load by not taking on more than you can handle. Plus learning to say ‘no’ is great practice for future parenting!
7. Practice your new routine. Getting used to a new “normal” takes time and practice. The best way to deal with it is to develop a routine that is efficient and well organized. No, it will not run smoothly every day, but having a routine in place will give both Mama and baby realistic expectations. Take a dry run to work, get your baby used to separating, arrange childcare your baby is happy with etc. Working out any kinks before they occur can save you a lot of time and grief.
8. Consider a new working pattern. Nine to six may not suit your lifestyle anymore, but that doesn’t mean you have to quit. Consider flexible hours, working remotely, compressed workweeks or job shares. Talk with your boss and provide reasonable options. The flexibility has to work both ways. Be creative and think outside the box; it will show your willingness to adapt and prove you’re still a force to be reckoned with!
“I was chasing my tail trying to do and be who I used to be. Talking to my boss and working out a new schedule changed my life.” Vanessa A. working Mama of Emma + Jane
1. Share your feelings. As with any challenge or struggle, it often feels easier when you share your burden. Tap into your personal congress of friends both personal and professional, whenever you feel the need to talk. Holding it in will only leave you feeling frustrated and alone. And you’ll be surprised at just how many people have actually gone through similar emotions.
2. Take it day by day. Accept that some days will be great and others not so much. Returning to work is an adjustment and it will take time to settle in. So don’t let perfect stop the good from happening. Take joy in knowing some things are going well, it doesn’t have to be everything. Focus on what you can control and don’t sweat the small stuff.
If you are breastfeeding and returning to work you will need to get your pumping and feeding routine firmly established beforehand. I suggest the following tips to help get you on track:
1. Consider introducing a ‘dream feed’ (a bottle of expressed milk or formula) at around 9:30-10pm once you and your baby are confident with breastfeeding. You can outsource the dream feed to your partner or someone else- allowing you to get some extra rest. Not only will this benefit your baby by giving them the chance to get used to being fed by someone other than you, it will also give your partner the chance to get involved.
2. Start pumping and freezing as soon as you feel confident with breastfeeding and it is realistically possible. Ideally, you’d want to start to build a milk supply at least a month before you are due back to work. This will help you develop a habit and routine as well as establish an emergency milk supply.
3. Once back at work you will need to take between 2-3 breaks of 15-20 minutes to pump during the day, depending on your baby’s routine. Talk to your boss and work out a schedule well beforehand.
4. Find out whether your office has a quiet, private area you can use to pump. A relaxed Mama can pump a lot more than a stressed one.
“I went back to work after my first child and couldn’t manage breastfeeding. I felt so guilty. Funnily enough I stayed home with my second child and it turns out I couldn’t manage to breastfeed her either. So much time wasted on guilt.” Susan Mama to Andrew & Edward
Be mindful of the fact that the combination of returning to work and breastfeeding does not work for everyone, whether for physical, emotional or practical reasons. Know that there are safe alternative options out there. Remember you are not, superwoman, and you don’t have to be.
Keep in mind even the most successful Mamas have bad days. On those days try to look back and take stock of what you’ve achieved instead of beating yourself up for not being perfect. Remember perfect stops the good from happening. If your family is fed, you’ve all made it through the day, and even managed to smile a few times, give yourself a pat on the back- you’re doing it!
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