You're going back to work after having a baby. Do you feel guilty, elated, uncertain? The polar opposite of how you thought you would feel? Take a deep breath and remember that more than half of all new moms go back to work when their babies are younger than 1 year old—many with conflicted emotions.
Hard to focus on profit-and-loss statements when your little miracle is at home? Even those of us who skip with joy back to the bosom of business—where we look forward to daily lunch breaks, intellectual stimulation, and adult conversation—may still experience less-than-inspiring moments of doubt and frustration. The good news is, despite inevitable ups and downs, things will get easier. Try these strategies to help you get through those first weeks.
- Accept that you may have to “fake it ’til you make it.” Have ready a short positive answer to “How are you?” along the lines of “It’s good to be back.”
- Give yourself a break. Expect at least the first month to be challenging and don’t beat yourself up. Call your partner or a friend if you need to hear a supportive voice.
- Remember that you’re doing what’s best for you and your family, and that you’re helping to give your baby the very best life possible.
- Think about the example you’re setting—a financially independent woman with a career and aspirations.
- Cherish the amazing feeling at the end of the day when you get to see your child again.
Handling Separation Anxiety—Your Own
For all the talk about a baby’s separation anxiety, the teary red face and the outstretched arms will likely belong to you. In the Working Mother survey, 67 percent of the working moms we surveyed experienced separation anxiety when they first returned to work after having a baby. Your baby will be fine; it might take a while for you to adjust. Once you see that your baby is happy and thriving, your own emotions will stabilize. Here are some tips to ease your anxiety:
- Place a photo of your baby on your desk. Ask your caregiver to occasionally take and e-mail photos.
- Keep in mind that babies usually have no trouble staying with a childcare provider during the day as long as they’re being fed, changed, and treated with love. This doesn’t mean that you’re being replaced—it means that there are more people in your child’s life to love and care for her.
- Know that there’s no scientific evidence that suggests that children are harmed when their mothers work outside the home. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that a child who is emotionally well adjusted, well loved, and well cared for will thrive regardless of whether his mother works outside the home.
When Things Don’t Get Better
Postpartum depression can come at any time during your baby’s first year—it affects one out of every five new moms. Diagnosing it can be difficult because symptoms, like mood swings and fatigue, are common postpartum. If you experience excessive sadness or guilt, a change in appetite, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, or you just don’t feel right, call your doctor right away. It’s important for you (and your baby) to get help.
Keeping Tabs on Baby
Whether your infant is at a childcare center or one-on-one with a nanny, you will want to know what your baby is doing while you’re at work. Make it clear when your caregiver should call, for example, if your baby isn’t feeling well, is crying uncontrollably, or gets hurt. You can also set up one or two appointed times to check in. Refrain from calling once an hour on the hour—this does no one any good.
Don’t ask your caregiver to videochat or submit detailed reports throughout the day on your baby’s every move. Her top priority is to focus on your child. Ask her to track things such as the number of diaper changes, feedings, and naps. If possible, build time into both your and your nanny’s schedules to review the day’s happenings.
Another no-no—surveillance. A spy cam in the baby’s nursery? If you feel an overwhelming urge to go all high-tech on the babysitter, reconsider your choice. Your peace of mind will depend on your comfort level with the person caring for your baby. If you don’t feel at ease, find someone you can trust.
Mother’s intuition can be subtle, and you may not recognize it the first time it taps you on the shoulder. If you’re feeling uncomfortable about anything relating to your baby, such as behavior or developmental issues, speak up to your partner, your baby’s pediatrician, or a mommy friend. Once you’re tuned in to your gut, you’ll be amazed at what it can tell you.
Guilty As Charged?
You will probably also discover a new level of guilt. Two-thirds of the working moms in our survey said they feel guilty about being away from their children when at work. As a mom, you can feel guilty over anything from not making your own organic baby food to secretly loving the solitude of your cubicle. When you’re home, you will think about work and vice versa—which will make you feel guilty. Feeling guilty, however, saps emotional energy that could be deployed elsewhere. Here’s how to ease your conscience:
- Ask “Why?” Try to figure out what exactly is triggering the guilt. Are you worried that you’re not as good as other moms? That maybe you don’t know what’s best for your baby? When those intrusive thoughts pop up, it can help to have a little mantra, something like, “I’m the best mom for my baby.” It may feel a little cheesy at first, but soon enough those words will turn into belief, and belief will turn into confidence.
- Stand your ground. If another person is making you feel guilty, stand up for yourself. If your mom thinks you should make a home-cooked meal by 6 p.m. daily—you know, the way she did—acknowledge that those dinners were great and remind her that your life is different and your family is okay with that.
- Forgive yourself. You may feel conflicted that you should have done something and didn’t, like reading to your baby, or that you did something you shouldn’t have, like yelling at your partner. Make peace with the fact that you’re not perfect, apologize when it’s appropriate, and try to do better next time.
- Don’t go there. Guilt will still seep through the most solid defenses. Simply being aware of it can help you let it go. Also try your favorite stress relievers—do a yoga podcast, knit, say a prayer, sing to your baby, talk to a friend. If an overdose of guilt is making you feel depressed or anxious, or eat or drink excessively, talk to your doctor right away.
Back on Track
Like Grandma said, much of life is simply getting through the rough parts. While she may not have had pressure from her boss to come back to work early or pump breastmilk on cue, it’s clear that woman was wise. Going back to work after maternity leave can be rough indeed, but smooth sailing is on the horizon . . . when your kids graduate from college.
Excerpted from Working Mom Survival Guide; a Working Mother magazine book, ©Weldon Owen Inc.