Having a child is an especially exciting time in your life. However, in truth, nothing really prepares you for it – from the emotions you’ll feel to the ‘round-the-clock time you’ll spend tending to your newborn. Additionally, childbirth can be hard on the body and it may take a new mom a few weeks to fully recover. Developing a feeding routine, whether breastfeeding or not, can equally take time as can establishing a solid bond with your newborn.
I mention these points because it’s necessary to give them some thought when deciding to return to work after the birth of your baby.
This is going to be one of the hardest decisions you have to make as a mom of a new baby. The guilt you might feel at being separated so soon from your child might be equally compounded by the guilt you feel at needing or wanting to get back to your job. Just ensure that whenever you choose to return to work it’s at a time that feels right (or as near as possible to ‘right’) for you, your baby and your body.
For example returning to work too soon after giving birth may prove to be exhausting and increase the risk for postpartum depression. Most OBGYNs recommend new mamas wait at least six weeks before getting back to your regular routine, including rejoining the workforce. This is the length of time it usually takes for a body that’s just brought another little human being into life to have healed safely and be feeling somewhat normal again. It’s also an ample amount of time for your hormones to have resettled and for the rollercoaster of emotions to have eased.
Of course, depending on whether your employer offers paid maternity leave or not, finances (or lack thereof) might dictate the date you kick-start the first day you start clocking in again. Do remember, however, that if you work for a company with at least 50 employees for at least one year then under the Family and Medical Leave Act you are entitled to at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave without the prospect of losing your job. Most employers do offer pregnant women up to 6 weeks unpaid maternity leave and you can often top that up with unused vacation or sick pay. Still, not having a regular salary coming in during that period may be a huge burden for many to shoulder.
Overall, the decision to return to work will be a choice based on both personal and professional demands and needs. However, if you know that you’ll definitely be heading back to work six weeks or sooner once baby is born do consider a few questions in preparation for that time:
Have you organized childcare that you feel safe and secure about? You may be lucky enough to have your partner, a family member, or another person close to you take on the responsibility of looking after your child while you’re back living the 9-to-5 routine. However, if, like most people, you’ll be engaging a nanny or leaving your little one in daycare, it’s important to ensure you feel fully comfortable with whichever scenario and caretaker(s) you opt for. Leaving your baby to go out to work each day is going to be tough enough but being at peace with your childcare arrangements will make the transition just that little bit easier for you.
Can you ease back in by working part-time for a few weeks? This will be so much better for your health as your body is bound to feel weary and worn working more than 20 hours a week postpartum. Equally, the disrupted nights of sleep that have suddenly become part of your life can take a toll on you mentally and physically. Working part-time might allow you to catch up on a few zzz’s during the extra hours that you’re at home.
Will it be possible to take rest breaks on the job? Some jobs are just go-go-go as soon as you hang up your coat in the morning until the moment you’re pulling it back on later that evening. If this has been the nature of your work prior to your maternity leave, see if it’s possible for you to have help with your workload during those first days or weeks back at your desk. You may also feel the need to take midday breaks. Find a little space in your workplace where you can go and put your feet up for five minutes a couple of times each day. Even a nap as short as 15 minutes will do your body and mind wonders—just make sure you can pull yourself out of it when the alarm goes off. You’ll be surprised at how much this can actually rejuvenate you.
If you’re breastfeeding, is there somewhere private in your workplace where you can nurse or pump? Many new moms who return to work soon after the birth of their infant choose to formula feed their babies because the breastfeeding relationship was never fully established. However, if you’ve decided to breastfeed and therefore have to nurse or pump on the job, make sure you’ve sorted out a secluded spot in your company where you can do this prior to your return to work. The last thing you want is to be scurrying around your office with a mewling newborn or leaky boobs, looking for a place to get down to business!