Having a baby is stressful. Having a job is stressful. The first time you combine working after you have a baby can compound these stressors into one of the most worrying transitions in a person’s life that can cast a shadow over your precious maternity leave. But the return back to work doesn’t have to be so stressful with some prenatal preparation and a plan in place. Below are some of my top tips for returning to work.
Be confident in your childcare choices
There are so many different childcare options, it can be hard to know what is the right choice for you and your family. Exploring your options before you give birth and having a solid plan can really put your mind at ease as your return to work draws near. There are many different ways to make sure your baby is loved and well cared for such as working off hours from your partner, have family watch your child, home-based daycare, or center-based daycare. You can also hire a nanny to come to your home to watch your child or send your child with a fellow parent to watch while you work. Exploring several options through interviews or tours of different facilities may take a lot of time and effort, but you’ll likely feel much better about your choice if you’ve seen many options before making your final choice.
Take the extras to your chosen childcare
If you’re childcare is outside your home, you’ll have a lot of extras things to make your baby’s transition as smooth as possible. Dropping these things off ahead of time will make that first day feel less rushed and more smooth. The following items can easily be taken to your care provider a few days before you begin care:
- Diaper cream
- Crib sheet
- Extra formula or frozen milk (check your care provider’s policy on how much and how long they can store consumables)
- Finger food and snacks (if you’re starting with an older baby who is already eating solids)
- Extra clothes (at least 2 sets)
- Weather appropriate outside clothes (sun hat, sunscreen, winter hat, mittens…)
- Any other comfort item for your child (pacifyer, favorite toy, blanket, etc).
Bringing these items in advanced also gives you a buffer day in case you forgot an item or realize you need to buy extras to stay with your care provider. This extra time will also help you talk to your care provider about any policies or procedures you may want more information about regarding the care of your child.
Finally, don’t forget to label all items before sending them to a care facility that may have many children with the same or similar items. Permanent marker is easy for consumable products like wipes or disposable diaper packages. Marking clothing tags or using stick-on labels can make less permanent marks for items that may be used if you have multiple children or wish to preserve resale value of some items.
Ease your way into a routine
A day or two before your actual first work day, a practice half day, can be a perfect way to ease yourself and your child into your new routine. Practice getting up and seeing how much extra time it takes to get ready and out the door. If possible, take your child for a half day with your childcare provider. Your practice day can gives you time to say goodbye to your child without feeling rushed or distracted by work start times. If you realize there are extra things you still need for childcare, you have some time to run to the store to pick up these last minute items. If you are planning to pump at work, this can also give you some practice with your pump to see how long set up, pump time, and clean up takes. I’d also suggest wearing your work and pump gear so you can work through potential problems without feeling guilty for missing work time.
Other possibilities to make the transition back to work less abrupt can be actually working half-days for the first week or two. It’s much easier to manage being away from your child for four or five hours and work your way up to eight or nine hours instead of starting with the nine hours right away. It can also be helpful to start back to work on a Thursday or Friday (or whatever day comes before your day/s off). It’s much easier to manage a few days knowing you’re going to have a weekend to reconnect with your child than to start off with a long, full week of work.
For pumping at work: have a pumping plan and practice
Nothing is worse than needing to pump, fumbling trying to get all the parts together, and working to figure out how to your new, unfamiliar pump turns on. Your breasts are swollen, heavy, and tender, but you just can’t seem to get it right.
Before you return to work, you should look through your pump’s manual and follow any cleaning instructions necessary prior to first use (many require sterilizing some parts before first use). You should also check that your flanges fit your breasts correctly. Most breastpumps come with medium sized flanges, but small and large sizes are available with most models, and having the right size can make a HUGE difference on milk output.
Practicing actually using your pump a few times at home when your baby is close can also help you find and correct any issues without being separated from your baby for hours at a time. This practice will also help you build up a stash of milk to ease the pressure to pump enough while you’re getting the hang of your routine. Wear your usual work attire (at least tops), so you can see how easily accessible the clothes you have are with pumping as well as practice using any hands-free pumping bras you might have. There are many options to when is the best time to practice. You can try pumping both breasts directly after any (or many) feeds. Or, after a feed, when you baby is napping, pump using just the last breast your baby nursed on (aim for a time you think will be a longer nap). When baby wakes up, use your unpumped breast to feed first. If building your supply and stash is your main need and concern, milk production is highest in the early morning hours, especially middle of the night, so adding an extra pumping session in the morning will give you more than an evening pumping session. I wouldn’t, however, recommend you make 3AM your first practice pump! Remember that the amount of milk you get pumping is not the same as the amount of milk your baby is taking in, especially if your added extra pumps in if your baby is still feeding 100% from you. It is very common to pump less than an ounce until you are actually replacing meals with pumping sessions.
For pumping while you are working, plan to pump at least as often as your baby will be eating while you are away, especially as you are just getting your pumping rhythm going. You will likely want to pump every two to four hours, depending on how old your baby is and how responsive you are to your pump. You should attempt to have a plan for where to pump before you return to work. If you don’t know where you can go, talk to your boss or other people in the office that might have recently been pumping for their baby. There might be secret work spaces that you aren’t aware of that will be a nice private place to pump.
Depending on the flexibility of your work, you might need to get creative with pumping times. Pump during your lunchtime and any other breaks you have. If you can pump at your workspace, you might only need to pause briefly to set up and clean up in between continuing to work. If you are having difficulty keeping up with your child’s needs, you can try pumping on your commute if your pump has a battery option or car adapter. If you still can’t keep up, you could try extra pump sessions at home or during the weekend or supplement with formula (breastfeeding and pumping doesn’t have to be all or nothing).
You’ll also need a storage and cleanup plan for your milk. Using a community fridge or mini fridge works well for storing milk pumped while at work. You can also get small coolers made specifically for breastmilk (many fit your pump bottle perfectly) with ice packs, which can safely store milk for up to 24 hours before needing to be transferred to a fridge or freezer.
With some preparation and planning, your return to work can go smoother than you ever imagined. If you’re still worried about your specific circumstances, schedule a free consultation or look into the back to work planning and support package.