“Welcome back! How is the baby?”
Never did I think such a statement would cause me to start sobbing hysterically, but it did. It was my first day back to work after having my second son. I was scheduled to work a 12 hour shift. He was 10 weeks old and had yet to take a bottle successfully despite our best efforts, so my tears were out of concern, sadness, anxiety, frustration and sheer exhaustion. After all, I thought my baby was going to starve!
I can’t quite recall what I said to this co-worker but she was not ready for such a strong reaction. I was still up every 1-2 hours at night breastfeeding, I had a toddler at home who needed my constant attention, our childcare situation was a bit unsettling – but I had to go back. All the paid time I saved up was exhausted and we really needed two streams of income.
I know that I was blessed to have an amazing 10 weeks at home with him because that is significantly more than what most women are able to secure but I kept thinking, “Why is going back to work so hard this time around?”. Then I realized the circumstances were so different. I had a full 6 months at home with my first and we didn’t have feeding issues, I had stable childcare at that time, and finances were tight, but not as stressful as they were when baby #2 came around.
Returning to work after having a baby is dreadful for some and a welcoming occasion for others. Regardless, there are a few things that you can do to make the transition smooth and keep the stress level to a minimum (if there is such a thing) for you and your partner:
- Take advantage of all the time off that you are allowed by your employer and/or state/federal law. Don’t forget about short-term disability benefits. Your HR department will be able to provide the details. Soak up this time and let the laundry and dishes pile up.
- Ask your boss if you can return to work part-time for the first couple of weeks.
- If possible, have your child spend time with whoever will be caring for him/her when you return to work. This way, if any feeding issues or other concerns arise, they can be addressed before you head back into the workforce.
- If you are breastfeeding, ensure you have a dedicated space to express milk. In MA, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires that employers provide you with a non-bathroom space to pump and adequate time to do so, though this time may be unpaid.
- Do a “dry-run” a few days before you are scheduled to return to work. Get up and get yourself and the family ready just like you would on a regular working day. This way you are aware of any bumps in the road that may make the morning stressful (i.e. diaper bag not packed, lunches taking longer to make than planned, increased traffic on the commute, etc.).
- Eat healthy and bring lots of nutritious snacks to work. I used to keep a drawer filled with things like protein bars, nuts and oatmeal.
- Have a support system in place. This may be a combination of family, friends and health care professionals (MDs, midwives, mental health providers, etc.). If they offer help, accept it. You can’t do it all, so don’t try.
- Finally, be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to experience all the emotions, good and sad. Bottling up negative emotions will not be healthy for you, your baby or your family. If you’re persistently sad, depressed or are experiencing intrusive thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or your baby, speak with your medical provider immediately. Postpartum depression/anxiety affects 1 in 7 women and is treatable. You are not alone.
I am happy to report, my son did figure out how to feed from a bottle that day and he did not starve.