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Heading Back to Work: Strategies for Easing the Transition, Part One

February 24, 2012

Whether your maternity leave lasted three weeks or three months, the time you have spent at home with your new baby has been like living in a different universe from your family, friends and co-workers. Minus the work deadlines, meetings, and the daily commute, your days have been mainly focused on feedings, diaper changes, naps and laundry. Going back to work means making the switch to a completely different routine, and the transition can be disorienting!

Hands down, the most important factor in your physical and mental health is sleep. A poor night’s sleep can make your everyday stresses feel insurmountable. And a good night’s sleep can make you feel like a superhero as you deftly juggle work and parenting. When you head back to work, you’re no longer able to squeeze in naps or zone out during feedings, so making the most of your night’s sleep is imperative. Set an early bedtime for yourself, so that you get plenty of rest in before your baby wakes in the middle of the night. Going to bed at 9pm rather than 11pm could mean the difference between 7 hours of sleep and 5 hours of sleep, and we all know what that difference feels like when you’re working all day!

If you’re planning on breastfeeding after you’ve returned to work, make a habit of pumping and freezing milk a few weeks before going back to the office. This way, you’ll get comfortable using the breast pump and can start to build up a supply of milk. You may also want to allow a parent or a friend to bottle-feed your baby from time to time, to get her used to the experience of being fed by someone other than her mother. And talk to your manager about setting aside two or three 20-minute pumping sessions during the day. You’ll need a private area to do this, and some employers may provide a temporary location for you. If they do not, you might suggest a vacant office or conference room.

Many working moms feel as if they’re being pulled in two completely different directions. Your company needs you to re-focus and catch up, and not everyone at work can understand the demands you’re under at home. Your baby needs you for feedings, bath-time, reading, and playtime. Your partner needs help with laundry, household chores, and preparation for the next day; and those action items are a daily occurrence! Just remember, you don’t need to excel at work and at home 100% of the time. Some days it will feel as if work is taking precedence over your family, and other days you’ll feel like your attention to your child is detracting from your work performance. These feelings are normal!

There’s no magic solution and no perfect way to balance it all, but there are two things you can do to make the best of it! First, remember that, although you are functioning like Sleep-Deprived Superwoman, you’re not perfect. You can’t be the world’s greatest mom AND the world’s greatest employee every day, and that’s okay. Second, remember that the quality of the time you devote to work or parenting is more important than the quantity. Even though the hours you spend with your baby may feel short after a long workday, being attentive and present when you are with your family is all they need. Remember, you’re setting a great example for your kids, so go easy on yourself!

And take it one day at a time. While the stress might feel intense at first, remind yourself that each stressful day is just that: a day. As you get accustomed to your new routines, and your child grows, the balancing act becomes second nature (at least until Baby #2 arrives)!

So many moms are coping with this transition, and we’ve got more advice for you! Stay tuned for part two in this series of blog posts about going back to work after baby!

Photography courtesy of Flickr.

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