As a mother of three I am no stranger to postpartum anxiety. There's sleep deprivation mixed with physical recovery in addition to all the questions that creep up no matter how many kids you've had and newborns you've raised. For the mom who has to return to work, there is even more worry and stress piled on.
How do we cope? How do we face the massive to-do list while dealing with the emotional roller coaster? How will we possibly get enough sleep in order to actually do our job? I don't have any easy answers - this is life and parenting, after all - but the following tips have been essential to make my transition back to work easier.
1. Find Childcare Early This is not easy. At all. Okay, it can be if you happen to have family who are home to watch the baby, but this isn't always possible. Depending on your location, finding quality childcare - and within your price point - can be incredibly tricky, especially since many daycares - whether in-home or a center - have limited infant spots. It's essential to hunt down a place early - perhaps even before baby arrives. A few questions to keep in mind:
- Are infants put on a schedule?
- Do you allow cloth diapers? (if this is important to you)
- Can I come in to nurse/feed on my lunch break?
- What is your child:teacher ratio?
- What are your policies on starting solids? (require rice cereal, jarred food, or do they allow table food for baby led weaning?)
Don't get me wrong, even having the best child care lined up won't make leaving your little one a breeze, but it should ease some of that anxiety. Some.
2. Introduce the Bottle Baby will most likely be taking bottles while you're at work - honestly not sure how else they'd eat unless you are blessed to have the ability to nurse throughout the day. Obviously, the formula fed baby will already have this skill down by the time you return, but for the breastfed nursling, it can be a bit tricky. You may want to buy several different styles of bottle to test out which one works best for your baby, but let's be honest. Not everyone has the money to shuck out to buy one of every brand out there. I went with the one I preferred and thought would work best, and then prayed the baby would like it. Thankfully, that strategy has worked out for all three of my kids, so hopefully it will for you as well.
I always introduce the bottle sometime between 4 and 6 weeks. This gives us ample time to get really good at nursing, making it less likely a bottle will muck up our groove, while not waiting so long that baby gives the big "screw you" to any attempt at giving a boob substitute. This is also a great time for mom to get a little alone time while dad, grandma, neighbor, best friend, whoever offers the first few bottles. It's best for mom to be out of the area as some babies have super human milk sensors that can smell the fresh stuff a mile away -- or at least a room away. So, hand the bottle of expressed milk to your stand-in and head to the salon to get your back-to-work makeover (I always love that first post-baby haircut) or go grab a starbucks and walk around target by yourself for a bit.
Offer a bottle at least every few days in the first weeks while adjusting to ensure baby is comfy, but I definitely think it's best for mama and baby to get as many nursings/snuggles in during those weeks leading up to D-Day. Okay, so you know you have to introduce the bottle, but you've got to have something to put in those first bottles, right?
3. Let's Talk Pumping Even after 3 babies, I still get nervous at the prospect of having to start pumping and building a stash, even a meager one. It's daunting! But here is the best method I've found for tackling it.
1. Around 4 weeks, pump after a morning feeding. You naturally produce more milk in the mornings than at night, so you'll have a bit of milk available even after baby eats. Whether you get 1/2 ounce or 4 ounces, celebrate! That's awesome. You now have milk to use in those first bottle sessions. This milk can be refrigerated for up to a week, and you can combine milk pumped on different days once they are the same temperature.
2. While your stand-in offers the bottle later in the day, you'll want to be ready to pump if needed. The milk pumped in this session can be frozen for your stash. I swear by the Lansinoh storage bags, filling them with 3-4 oz and freezing flat.
That's basically all there is to it. Pump in the morning for the milk to offer in the bottle test runs later in the day. Pump while baby takes the bottle to build up the frozen stash. Cake, right?
4. Snuggle Up With Baby Now that we've talked about the logistical steps on the road back to work, let's tackle the emotional. Leaving baby for long stretches blows! So even if you're needing to be out of the house whenever baby practices with the bottle, snuggle up with that baby as much as you can those last weeks. Get in all the loving you can. They're only this tiny once, so take advantage of it.
5. Do A Dry Run If you can, work with your daycare or childcare provider about doing a half-day or full-day dry run before you go back to work. This allows you to practice the drop off routine (where to put bottles, diapers, spare clothes, etc) before your first day when you'll likely be running late (I know I was) and emotionally a mess. This allows baby to have a day to get used to her new surroundings and for you to adjust a bit to this new reality - without the pressure of work. Oh, you also get a chance to take a nap! Do it!
Whew. That's all I've got. Transitions are hard, and heading back to work is just one of the many you'll tackle in this crazy journey of parenting. Do the best you can, breathe, laugh, cry, and love on that baby of yours!
Vanessa is a working mom of three kiddos, ages 5, 2 1/2 and 3 months. She is a proud Army National Guard wife who somehow manages to work full time, parent full time and blog full time. You can catch her writing about everything from parenting to faith to beer over at Bible, Beer and Babies. Or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.