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Transitioning Back to Work After the Baby: Tips for Working Moms

Click here to contact Andrea and/or see her GoodTherapy.org Profile

“The phrase ‘working mother’ is redundant.” Jane Sellman

“Making the decision to have a child-It’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone

I was inspired to write this article by many beautiful, courageous mothers, family, friends and clients.  I believe all moms are working moms, whether working at home and/or out of an office.  When I had my first son almost 10 years ago, I remember how difficult this transition was for me, as a mom who worked out of the home, and I needed all the support in the world. Having a baby for the first time is challenging enough. However, a second adjustment most definitely occurs when a mother returns to work after her baby is born. And if this mommy happens to also have other children, the transition can feel completely overwhelming.

I also want to add that for women who stay-at-home or who work part-time, they are working just as hard…doesn’t matter if work is at home, in an office, or both. Juggling it all can be tough, and all women need and deserve support. This article is geared mostly to the mom who is returning to an office job and/or a job that requires separating from baby.

The vast majority of moms in the United States do return to work in some capacity, due in large part to economic necessity. With that, many feel frustrated that they do not have more lengthy maternity leaves to bond with their babies, such as generous family leaves found in Sweden or Germany and other nations (some countries provide a year of paid leave for families). Other struggles manifest if an employer is not considered “family friendly”, including flexible work hours and providing private lactation facilities for moms pumping milk at work. That being said, there is hope for moms who work outside the home to find the right balance and make the “juggle dance” more manageable. The following is a list of tips and suggestions for creating balance for women who wear so many hats. I wish I had this list to refer to 10 years ago….

“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?” Milton Berle

Note: The Internet can be a great resource and support for moms working outside the home.  Websites that I have found particularly helpful about this topic are: mommytrackd.com and workingmother.com. These websites offer humor, practical advice on organizing family/work life, lists of most family-friendly companies, and time-saving strategies, not to mention healthy doses of reality-testing and perfectionism-banishing support. Realmomexperts.com is a wonderful website for self-care, as I mentioned in Dec. 2010 article. One can subscribe to weekly self-care tips, applicable to all hard-working moms.

My Top Twenty Tips for Moms Returning to Work (outside the home):

1) If at all possible, return to work on a Thursday (if you work full time) so that you have a short work week initially. Then you have the weekend to review how to make necessary adjustments for the following week. And you enter the new week knowing you can do this! It is empowering to get through the first week, even if it is a short one.

2) If pumping, find out ahead of time where you can have privacy. Is there a lactation room at your work? Or an office with a lock on it? You don’t want someone barging in on you while in vulnerable position. If you try pumping, and you find you just don’t have the energy to continue, perhaps partial supplementation with formula for your baby will be just fine. Then you can breast-feed when you are with your baby at night and on weekends. I did this with my first born, and it’s amazing how the body adjusts as needed. It worked very well for my son and myself. Or you can also be okay with letting go of breastfeeding if you are feeling too depleted.

3) Bring snacks and water. It is soooo important to stay hydrated and keep blood sugar even. It’s easy to forget to eat or drink water when multi-tasking. Remember that proper nutrition, including continuing with prenatal vitamins (if breastfeeding and doctor recommends), is essential to good mood health. Bring high-protein snacks (like almonds and string cheese) to graze on throughout the day and before/after lunch. What is good for your body is good for your mental state.

4) Allow yourself to cry. You will miss your baby. A lot. Initially, it will be very tough. Bring Kleenex. Give yourself the time and space to let the tears flow in the company of supportive people who understand your transition. Then distract yourself with tasks at hand to ground yourself back in the present. Reward yourself with some nice adult conversation and a cup of delicious coffee or herbal tea. Savor being able to enjoy a chat with your colleagues uninterrupted by baby’s needs.

5) It may be helpful to bring a transitional object that reminds you of your connection with your baby, like a picture of the baby, or a little bootie with his/her scent. Some women laugh that they have a “baby shrine” of baby photos at their desk so that they feel connected to their little one while away. Leave a photo of you with the baby and an item with your scent on it (a robe or article of clothing). You stay connected through your senses that way throughout the day.

6) Align yourself with other working moms. They are invaluable as support when you are having a tough day balancing it all. These mammas are doing what you are doing and more than likely have some emotional support and tricks up their sleeve that have helped them weather the storm of transitioning back to work.  Don’t reinvent the wheel. Go to the seasoned mammas for support and guidance.

7) If at all possible, work for a family-friendly company. All moms/families deserve to have the flexibility they need to make work/family life balance possible. Sadly, not all employers embrace this philosophy. Some employers also have generous family leave policies. Check Working Mother magazine for the top employers who are “family friendly.” I especially love companies that have on-site daycare. My sister has been blessed with this benefit and has lunch with her son every day. She can hear him playing outside happily with his friends while she is busy providing for her family. Now that’s what I call ideal.

8) Take the longest maternity leave possible. That goes without saying. You will never regret having the maximum amount of time off to bond with your baby. Although the bonding process continues when you return to work and basically forever, that initial concentrated time with baby is so important for postpartum adjustment. Your body and mind are healing and you are getting to know this little creature you birthed into the world, not to mention trying to figure out what motherhood is all about. Take the maximum time you can afford off from work to allow the time and space to adjust. You deserve it.

9) If at all possible, be open to a flexible or part time work schedule so that you give yourself ample room to adjust to all the responsibilities of being a mom and working outside the home. This tip goes back to Number 7. Again, a family-friendly workplace is really essential to a happy mom. And a happy mom is a happy child and family.

10) Remind yourself that you do have choices. If this job does not fit the needs of your family, you can look elsewhere and offer up your talents to a company that values family balance. You are NOT stuck. If you can’t leave a bad situation immediately, execute a swift plan of action for an exit strategy. Do you need to take additional classes to beef up your skills? Do you need to do more networking? Make a time-line for your goals, and incrementally chip away at what is needed to move to another company.

11) The African proverb,“ It takes a village to raise a child,” is apropos.  And it does take a village to do this Herculean task called raising a child. Finding good quality child care is essential. Take your time interviewing babysitters, whether in-home or center-based, and know that your baby will be fine with a loving caregiver while you are at work. Your baby will learn that he/she is loved by many. He/she will also know that you are his/her mommy and his/her most special attachment. That doesn’t change when you go back to work.

12) If you are in a relationship, it is essential to have a supportive partner. That goes without saying.  You need to be able to negotiate division of labor with chores, childcare, time for yourself, and time as a couple. Sometimes couples therapy is helpful to assist with improving couples communication during this major life transition into parenthood. Make time for date nights to honor the couple relationship and keep the family foundation strong.

13) Quality v quantity time w baby. You’ll need to renegotiate with yourself how you view spending time with your baby. Remember that quality time is really what’s most important. There are moms that spend hours with their children without quality interactions (sadly), and those children don’t fair well. Children who know they will have quality time with their parent(s) daily adjust quite well to parents returning to work. (There are studies that back this up). Plus, all the social skills your child learns at a young age are invaluable (studies also back this up).

14) Organize the night before. Lay out/iron your outfit, back the baby’s bag with diapers/wipes/bottles/food/etc, put together your lunch/snacks/water, grind coffee and set timer. Lunches made for older kids (or better yet, have older kids make their lunches…delegate!). Also if you can afford it, delegate tougher chores/tasks to hired professionals (I.e housekeeper, gardener, etc.)

15) Self-care during work week and on weekends. Have a bubble bath before you go to bed, letting go of the day’s stress and anticipating an exciting day at work with adults the following day. Give yourself permission to wake-up just 10 minutes earlier than you need to, to focus, meditate, pray, breathe. You won’t regret that quiet time to get centered. (again, see www.realmomexperts.com for daily self-care tips).

16) Keep the focus on mood health: Especially for those moms who have recovered or are in the process of recovering from a postpartum mood challenge (clinical term: postpartum depression/anxiety). What is good for your body is good for your mind. Keep the exercise program going to lift endorphins which keep serotonin levels high in the brain (neurotransmitter that regulates mood); if taking medication, proceed as your doctor advises; eat nutritious meals which also include omega-3 fatty acids. The latter has been shown to support mood health. And strive for at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep (a full sleep cycle) so that serotonin is not depleted in the brain through sleep deprivation. Continue with psychotherapy to support transition to working outside the home if needed.

17) Positive self-talk: You can do this thing called working motherhood. You are a role model for baby and providing for a good life for your child. Create a list of positive affirmations that will help remind you of why you are a working mom and how good it is for your family. Focus on the benefits of working outside the home. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Every day journal three things you are proud of you have accomplished that day (I am sure there are many more than three). Also record three things you are grateful for. Journaling with positive affirmations and recognition of what you are accomplishing goes a long way to keep mood health happy and even.

18) Keep your support network strong: This also means outside of work, you need activities, friends, and community to help buffer life’s stresses. Are you involved in a religious institution that provides a parent’s night-out? Do you have friends who you can meet on the weekend at the park who also have children your child’s age? What extended family are available to provide daycare if your child gets sick or you just need a night out with your partner? Keep those networks strong. Do you have a creative outlet that helps reduce stress (i.e. painting, photography, scrapbooking, hiking, etc.)? Keep those activities planned on your calendar to balance out life.

19) Pay yourself first. You are earning this money. Make sure you have a self-care fund that you add to for pedicures, a fancy cup of coffee, getting your hair done, a night out with the girls…you need and deserve a pampering fund for all the hard work you do.

20) If you are feeling so overwhelmed, down or anxious that your ability to get out of bed or function at home or at work is affected, do not hesitate to get an assessment by a trained perinatal mental health therapist. This caring, supportive person can work with you to determine if you have a biochemical condition (clinical term: postpartum depression/anxiety which affects 20% of all childbearing women) that warrants further intervention through psychotherapy, medication management (in some circumstances) and other supports. Postpartum Support International (www.postpartum.net) has a list of volunteers who can connect you with specialists in women’s reproductive mental health. Also see www.postpartumprogress.com for the most up-to-date information on PMADs (perinatal mood anxiety disorders: clinical term) and daily affirmations of hope for those in active recovery.

I hope my tips for moms returning to work outside the home is helpful to you. The list is by no means exhaustive, and I am sure I could add dozens more tips to fill a book! I know from my own personal experience that being a mom who works outside the home can be very rewarding and fulfilling. It can be challenging to find just the right balance, and that is a goal I strive to achieve daily. Some days are easier than others, but mostly I really enjoy the “juggle dance” and feel very grateful I can be a fully attentive, “good enough” (albeit not perfect) mother and a dedicated professional at the same time.

I wish you good health and a joyful transition to a full life, being a working mom.

“The moment the a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” Rajneesh

Cheers to you and this beautiful, adventurous, challenging journey called motherhood. May you embrace all that encompasses your new role and thrive.

© Copyright 2011 by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, therapist in San Dimas, CA. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Rosalee January 19th, 2011 at 9:41 PM #1

    When I returned to work quite honestly it was a blessed relief to get the break away for my child! I admire enormously any mother who can stay at home 24/7 and be content. It’s a very, very demanding and underappreciated job. Me, I couldn’t do it round the clock and be alone with my child every day, all day. I needed to be amongst adults. If that makes me a bad mother, so be it. I guess I’ll never be Mrs. Brady!

  • maisie January 19th, 2011 at 10:12 PM #2

    Ha! I love the Milton Berle quote, Andrea. So true! We also need an encyclopedic knowledge of everything so we can answer all those impossible questions that kids pose. :) And a tub of wet wipes permanently welded to our hips. Seriously, that was an excellent collection of tips.

  • karyn January 19th, 2011 at 11:27 PM #3

    Wow, I couldn’t have contemplated attempting to carry on breastfeeding when I went back to work. It was hard enough to organize as it was. I felt no guilt at all about switching to a formula and my daughter accepted the change readily, which I’m sure made the transition so much easier. There’s lactation rooms now? Wow again. I’d have had to do it in our staff restrooms in a cubicle.

  • Vickie January 20th, 2011 at 5:45 AM #4

    I stayed home for three years after I had my son, and I have to say that I was ready to go back to work and have some adult interaction.
    I would not trade that time that I was bale to spend with him, but I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders when I had to be home all of the time. I know it may be controversial but going back to work made me a much better mom and wife than I was when I stayed at home.

  • DH January 20th, 2011 at 8:48 AM #5

    The point of the transitional object was a new one for me…I am aware that babies connect through scent but then had never thought of or heard of this point before…thank you for this, will be useful because my sister will be having a baby next month and will be returning to work after that…

  • Nicholas January 20th, 2011 at 8:29 PM #6

    Why aren’t there any working dads websites, hmm? You don’t see us needing a special place to go on the internet. We just get on with it. I don’t know what you all fuss about.

  • Jan January 20th, 2011 at 9:46 PM #7

    The first few weeks back you’re retraining yourself to think like a worker, as well as combine motherhood tasks. Looking back I was much too hard on myself, expecting everything to go completely smoothly. It didn’t of course but that’s life! You’re allowed training wheels until you get your balance of work/home life figured out and it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Heck, I still do and that was twenty years ago. We’re only human.

  • Ginger January 20th, 2011 at 10:37 PM #8

    I never expected to feel as exhausted and physically downtrodden as I did after the baby. I naively thought the birth would be the hardest part and then I’d bounce back, all glowing and overflowing with “new mom” smiles LOL. Instead I found myself groaning with every move as I slowly healed from my C-section. The best advice for returning to work moms is accept all the offers of help you get from friends and relatives gracefully. You don’t need to do it all by yourself and it takes your body a long time physically to get back on an even keel.

  • Bethany January 21st, 2011 at 5:46 AM #9

    It is a very difficult choice that so many moms have to make about whether to go back to work or not. Many do not have a choice, they have to pay the bills, but there are others who do have the freedom to have that choice and all I have to say is do what is right for you. There are some moms who make great stay at home moms but there are others who this literally drives them insane! Make the best choice for your family and your baby and everything will be alright.

  • keisha January 21st, 2011 at 11:17 AM #10

    @Nicholas: And I’m sure you go home at night and cook a meal, do laundry, help with homework, bath the kids, get them ready for bed, check schoolbags for notes, do the dishes, iron the clothes, prepare packed lunches, set the table for breakfast, fall into bed and then get up an hour before anyone else to prepare for the day ahead, Mon-Fri every week? And of course go grocery shopping on the weekend and do chores for 80% of the weekend.

    If you guys do all that too, you’re right: working dads do deserve a site just like we do. Trouble is, I don’t know a single husband that does. Men like that are about as real and rare as a unicorn. Go back to your sofa and think about that. Better yet, get off it and go give your wife a hand!

  • Linsay January 21st, 2011 at 1:22 PM #11

    By the time you have your second child or more, you have that whole working day routine all figured out. I made all my mistakes with child number 1 LOL, so number 2 was a walk in the park! It helped that she was the sunniest natured girl in the world too. :) Take comfort, first time moms. We all go through that and it will get easier. Practice makes perfect.

  • Mary January 21st, 2011 at 4:36 PM #12

    What a flashback moment that was! Thanks for a good read, Andrea. I’m glad mine are all grown up now. That brought back memories. :)

  • Annelise January 21st, 2011 at 5:59 PM #13

    Keeping your sense of humor will help you sail through the early back-to-work days. If I hadn’t done that I would have just cried some days (and did)! On reflection, nothing grave or monumental happened, just little things going wrong. When your body’s flooded with hormones though as it still is for a while after you give birth, it tends to make you a bit more flakey than usual. :) Keeping it light keeps you in a good frame of mind and more able to cope.

  • Sadie January 22nd, 2011 at 7:54 PM #14

    Thanks, Andrea! I enjoyed that. :) Talking about how it’s all going with other new mothers is a great thing to do and it’s not emphasized enough imho to new mothers. You discover other moms are having the same types of feelings. When I confessed to a fellow first-time mom pal how inadequate I felt at not being able to get my act together (ie couldn’t get a spare minute to get dressed by noon!), she immediately confessed feeling exactly the same! This was a friend I would tease by calling Mrs. Organized too. We spent the morning comparing notes on what was working and what wasn’t, and both came away feeling much better and with new ideas.

  • Elizabeth January 23rd, 2011 at 10:08 AM #15

    Don’t be afraid to admit you’re not coping as well as you thought you would to professionals too, and especially if you’re feeling depressed. Post-partum depression affects many, many women and is nothing to be ashamed of. It can happen long after a birth, although it’s most common within the first month. You could be dealing with it when you’re almost celebrating your child’s first birthday. Talk to your doctor and he/she will help you clarify if that’s at the root of it all.

  • Marianne January 23rd, 2011 at 6:31 PM #16

    Very true! I saw a report recently by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP’s) Committee on the Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Development that suggested pediatricians incorporated screening moms for post-partum depression into the babies’ visits. Since they see the mothers most with their babies initially after birth and in the following weeks and months, it makes sense. It’s correct that post-partum depression can strike anytime up to a year following the delivery.

  • Andrea Schneider February 23rd, 2011 at 8:42 AM #17

    I so appreciate all the feedback. Moms DO need the support for many complicated reasons…and SO DO DADDY’s and/or PARTNERS!!! Did you know that postpartum depression can also affect dads/partners?! YES, it can! See Postpartum Support International (postpartum.net) and Postpartum Progress blog for more pearls for wisdom on the topic.Perhaps, that will be my next article…hmmmm
    Blessings, Andrea :)

  • Pamela March 10th, 2012 at 1:46 AM #18

    Why isn’t there anything anywhere about returning to work after a stillbirth? :'(

  • Terri March 22nd, 2012 at 3:19 AM #19

    @Keisha: well said!!!!
    @Nicholas: bet your wife is also your PA – reminding you of kids immunisation dates, parent teacher interviews & sports dates! course it’s easy for you when you all you have to think about is work and what your wife’s cooked for dinner!!!!

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