This post has been a long time in the making. So it’s extensive. You’ve been warned.
‘Going back to work’ is one of the most talked about topics I have with friends, Moms, Mom-friends and clients. For many, the fear about the whole thing begins as early as pregnancy: How will I feel about going back to work? Will my baby be okay? What will I need to do to prepare? Etc. I don’t have all the answers. Sorry. But I do have some tips, tricks, advice and suggestions that might make your transition easier. Please note this post is for both formula and breastfeeding Moms. So if you see a section that doesn’t apply to you, please feel free to scroll past it but read through to the end!
Let’s talk about the emotional aspects of working first. Will you be scared? Anxious? Okay? Who knows! That’s the tricky thing about hormones. Even if you tell yourself you should or will feel one way, you might completely feel another. Some Moms think they’ll be a mess and it turns out they like working! Others think they’ll be okay and then they cry the whole first day. My takeaway from this topic is that because you won’t know until you get there, try not to stress about it – especially during your pregnancy. Take each day moment by moment and cross all the bridges when you get there.
Now let’s say you’re almost there or you already are and you’re an emotional disaster. Here’s some ways to cope:
1. Take their jammies with you and smell them throughout the day. Does that sound creepy? I think so. But hey – I like smelling the scent of my baby and I know I’m not alone. Now that I’ve put this out there, if you already do it, now you know you’re not alone too. Look, Mamas have to do what they have to do and taking care of yourself and your feelings is very important. If you slip their favorite toy into your briefcase, buy a second lovey and keep it at your desk or carry yesterday’s blanket to get a little whiff, kudos to you for taking care of yourself and the way you feel. Don’t let anyone pass judgment.
2. Wear a special piece of jewelry.
I have 2 items I love. The first is a gift I received from my grandparents and it’s a charm representing each of my children and the second is a photo-necklace that I have housing the picture of my son’s first smile (a picture of THE first smile? Yes. Back in the day when I did nothing but stare at him and take 238 photos a day [no exaggeration] I somehow managed to capture this. But I digress …) Every time I wear one or both of these necklaces, I feel like I am carrying my children WITH me. How or why I feel that way makes no sense to me but sometimes I’m working and I think of them and I just touch the charms and I feel good. So how about treating yourself to an early Mother’s Day gift? You can turn a favorite photo into a piece of jewelry (just search “custom photo necklace” on etsy), get a charm, wear something with their initials, etc.
3. Get a “Back to work buddy”
When possible, I try to make these connections between clients because I think it’s important to give yourself support. Any friend who has recently went back to work will be a great resource but if you can find someone in your field, that’s even better. Lawyer moms can relate to other lawyer moms and teacher moms can relate to other teacher moms, etc. Every field has its own unique set of challenges and having a buddy in your field is invaluable. They will understand your challenges better than anyone else and perhaps, if it’s someone who has already went back to work, they can help you if you’re facing a certain struggle and they’ve already done it before (ie, law firms having Moms pump in closets or teachers being sent to the nurse’s office, nurses having to work erratic schedules, etc.).
4. Talk about your fears and your excitement – embrace them. Whatever you do, know that the way you feel is okay – whatever it may be. For the record, post-partum depression can hit any Mom way up until baby’s first year. I think it’s great if you’re excited to go back to work and you want to share that detail with your partner and friends, but I particularly fear for Moms who experience a depression right at the time they go back to work – and then they bottle that in. If you start to feel anxious, feel sad or start to have some thoughts that don’t feel healthy to you – please make sure you share THAT with your partner, friends and a doctor.
5. If possible, ask your daycare provider, or stay-at-home partner, to send you a picture of your kid(s) throughout the day. Some daycares even have cameras in their facilities so you can “peek in” whenever you like. (Fancy, right!?) But they’re not everywhere. I send my husband a picture of the kids every day. He probably doesn’t need it, but his desire to be with the kids isn’t any less than a Mom, so why not? In the world of modern technology, it takes 35 seconds to snap a photo and email it with a caption that says, “Hi! I was just thinking of you!” I like to think (and he has told me!) that it does give him a sense of closeness. And doing so also makes him feel like he hasn’t been gone ALL DAY and doesn’t know what they’re up to.
Now that some of the emotional details have been discussed, let’s move onto the practical.
You may be wondering, “What do I need to do to prepare? Especially if I breastfeed?”
To be honest, the answer to this will be so specific to your situation details that I don’t have a great catch-all answer. Check first with your daycare provider. If they are an organization, they will have gone through this so many times before that they will be clear about what you need to pack and bring every day (snacks? bottles? extra binkys?) and can probably give you a checklist. If a family member will be your daycare provider, I recommend just buying two of everything you use on a daily basis and leaving the second set there. That means you have less to pack (or forget) every day. The really good news is that after the first week of juggling the stress of your new routine, you will have figured the practical details all out.
As far as breastfeeding goes, I would recommend utilizing the kellymom.com website as a resource and beyond that, I would recommend you check out your local resources. For example, here in the Pittsburgh region, The Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh offers a “Working and Breastfeeding” class – approximately every other month. They can help you figure out a pumping schedule, give you some tips and help you come up with your own plan for balancing the return to work with a new baby and breastfeeding.
Beyond that, I do have a few specific tips that I always offer [for breastfeeding Moms]:
1. Get yourself a Simple Wishes Hands Free Nursing Bra. This is one of the best $27 you will ever spend. Not only does it make pumping way less of a pain in the a$$ but by the very nature of the design, it makes it very easy to wear over your clothes. Yes. Over your clothes. I just said that.
A lot of times, I tell people this trick and they look at me like I have 4 heads because it’s hard to explain when you’ve never seen it before so I decided to share a picture:
That’s me wearing the Simple Wishes Breastpump Bra over my (of course) nursing clothes. Much of the stress re pumping at work relates to the fear of someone seeing what you are doing. While I don’t think everyone will have the carefree attitude I have adopted over time, I do think not being half naked and not having to lift your clothes and expose your back will help. To be honest, this is basically how I pump in my car (yes – while driving). When I’m out and about and I would have/should have been nursing the baby, I set myself up like this and just throw a nursing cover over the whole process.
I love this bra SO MUCH that it is on the Essential Breastfeeding Supplies list that I recommend to all Moms who plan to breastfeed.
2. Throw all your pieces in a big ziploc baggie and stick them in the ‘fridge between sessions. I didn’t learn this trick until my second baby and when I found out, I was so mad. I could have saved HOURS of my life not washing breast pump parts between sessions! I mean, think about it. You’re pumping Milk. Milk, like cow’s milk, that’s kept in the ‘fridge. So really, if you just stick all the parts in a ziploc baggie and stick them in the ‘fridge, they shouldn’t go bad. When I first started pumping during the day and had to wash all the parts, I thought when I went back to work I would just buy 2 extra sets of flanges, valves and membranes so I could just grab a new set every time I had to pump and only have to dedicate myself to one long-washing session at the end of the day (I envisioned after my baby went to bed). It turns out I never had to deal with it because we wind up moving and I was finished breastfeeding before I returned to work but I like to think the ‘fridge trick is even better. On that note, if possible, I also recommend a small mini-fridge in your office or cube so you don’t have to stress about someone touching, using, or doing something to your expressed milk.
Oh – and speaking of extra valves and membranes – whatever type of pump you have, HAVE EXTRAS of everything. If you have a Medela, you especially need extra membranes. The tiniest of holes can mess up your whole day and give you unlimited stress. For $5, save yourself from having a meltdown at work. Keep a box in your drawer and keep a box at home too (those damn, slippery things can fall down a drain so easily!)
Well folks, that’s all I’ve got for now. I imagine I’ve already “chewed your ears off” for about 5 min. I hope you found some useful information within and – at the very least – enjoyed my picture. I’m pretty sure you won’t find one similar anywhere on the internet. I also want you to know – if you’re a Mom – you’re doing a good job today! Look – we all have our bad days. Our stressful days. The days we wish we did something different. The day that never ends and the day that went too fast. Nothing is perfect and life can be hard. Just do the best you can, love your kids, love each other and what more can you ask for? Oh – and if you have super little kids (ie, just born and barely beyond), just know that each day it gets better. And easier. Until you hit potty training. Just kidding. Kind of.
PS – What tips, tricks and advice can you share? Leave a comment below! There is no better support for Moms than other Moms.