If you are a woman in America, chances are you get three or less months of maternity leave to bond with your newborn. There is lots written about how inequitable, outdated and disrespectful this policy is for women, children and families, not to mention the shame in being the only Western nation failing to provide sufficient paid leave. But this post won’t be about this sensitive subject. Rather, let’s talk about the inevitable return to work just weeks after giving birth and 5 tips to not only survive the madness, but do so with purpose and self-preservation, based on my personal experience.
1. Get organized and mentally prepared for frequent pumping, if you choose to continue breastfeeding and want to keep your child exclusively on breastmilk. One of the biggest challenges coming back to work before your baby is 12 weeks is that breastfeeding is yet to be established and the newborn is still “creating” the supply of milk. Usually this means lots of quality time at home, pinned between your breastfriend breastfeeding pillow and the couch, consuming inordinate amount of fair-to-poor television and Netflix originals due to total inability to follow complex storylines and need to pause every 10 minutes. So what to do if you cannot have this time?
Stock up on essential pumping supplies like a hands-free pumping bra, an excellent pump such as Spectra S2 (which a number of insurances offer free) or convenient Willow, fast healing nipple cream such Motherlove nipple cream, leakproof breastmilk storage bags, marker for labeling, cooler for discrete storage and whatever else might make you comfortable.
Create a schedule to pump as many times as the baby feeds while at work. It may also be beneficial, as annoying it might be, to start pumping ahead of getting back to work at least once a day, perhaps in early morning hours when supply is highest, to get your breasts prepared for regular pumping (they do have a memory!) Because effective breastfeeding is a function of supply and demand, your body needs frequency to continue building the milk supply. So even if you could wait to pump, don’t wait! Set a timer and make sure to pump at least every three hours, increasing intervals only if the baby’s feeding intervals increase as well.
Most importantly, mentally prepare to spend time pumping while away from the baby. A part of this habit building and dedication is getting into the state of mind to commit to the process and fall into the routine. It will be over before you know it, so set yourself up to give this gift to your child.
2. Arrange for as much flexibility as possible in your schedule. Attempting to create a flexible schedule is ideal, so discuss with your manager in advance phasing back to work slowly, working some days from home and reserving the ability to work early in the morning or late at night. Flexibility can be a key to getting more done, and keeping your sanity (mostly).
3. Use the night before to prepare for the next day (and sometimes days ahead). My very talented manager, a high-powered executive marketing leader, and simultaneously single mom of two told me once to never underestimate the power of the evening prep. In the morning, everything must be “grab and go”. And if not, and this is my own rule, you likely have a 5 minute commute to work and a full time nanny, or are a superhuman. A part of evening prep is getting enough sleep. While your baby is still small, it might mean getting to sleep far earlier than you might like at least a few nights a week. It might also be pre-making ready to eat breakfasts, packing lunches and everything your baby might need in your absence.
4. Create your support team. Who is watching your baby while you are at work? The answer will make or break you. Daycare might lead to many days when you have to stay back to care for a sick child and in many roles, it’s just not a good career-building practice. If you can, hire a nanny at least part time or some of the days. I also found back up care, nannies with flexible hours and a daycare with emergency care option. In addition, consider hiring other help – cleaning service or food delivery such as Splendid Spoon or Sun Basket to cut cooking time. If you can afford it, sometimes a private chef could be a solution to create a weeklong array of meals in a single cooking session (Hog in the Kitchen in Northern NJ is our favorite). And don’t pass on weekend help from grandparents, siblings or friends, if they offer!
5. Figure out your priorities. Coming back to work is incredibly difficult, after any amount of leave. Sleepless nights, eat-poop-sleep routine and little human contact fizz away the clarity of thinking you may have once possessed and getting it back takes time. Cut yourself a little slack as you get back on-board, take copious notes in meetings to actually recall details of your newly acquired projects (don’t!! trust yourself to remember), and daily create a priority to-do list that has three items or less, the completion of which will lead to your advancement. Complete your priority to-do list with 100% dedication, all else need not be perfect or even complete.
One thing I try to remember when times with kids get tough, it is that nothing is permanent. It will be over before you know it. Meanwhile, your best is enough, mom.