How will you know you’re ready for your comeback?
When you’re anticipating a baby—whether years or weeks in advance—there’s lots of fun stuff to think about and plan: the colors of your nursery, names, a party with friends and family. The list can go on and on.
You also may be wondering how one goes about incorporating a tiny human into an already strained work/life balance. At the top of those considerations is determining whether and when to get back to work after your baby’s arrival.
Based on my experience as a new mom new to freelancing, I found this rather challenging. When I tried to formulate an approach by doing a bit of Googling, it yielded more confusion than clarity. It would be an understatement to say the web is full of new mom stories and the well-intentioned advice they attract. Countless factors play into the needs of each new mom, her baby and the rest of their household.
Role models and public figures also find it challenging
Although new moms have lots in common, each has a unique story. In some cases, these stories rise to the level of world news.
One that gained worldwide attention this year was out of New Zealand, where the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern became only the second world leader to give birth while in office. Ardern got back to work six weeks following the birth of her first baby.
Tennis superstar Serena Williams, who had serious complications last fall during childbirth and afterward, returned to the court five months later. She’s talked about the challenges in being a new mom figuring out her path.
Lauren Smith Brody, a former magazine editor and mom who struggled to find her way back to work after childbirth, ended up coining a term to describe the period, “the fifth trimester.” Now that her baby is eight years old, she’s written a book about it based on stories she collected from 700 moms. Brody calls it a “monumental transition.” Her book aims to help new moms navigating this chapter in their lives.
Five tips for deciding when you’re ready to return to work as a new mom
One way to start thinking about your transition is to boil down your considerations to a few key concepts. Here are five ways to focus as you plan your return:
1. Take your health and wellbeing seriously
When the time comes, you may have any number of considerations related to your health following your delivery. For instance, women who have a cesarean will need four to six weeks or more to heal. Doctors recommend that women who deliver vaginally also allow six weeks recovery before returning to work.
Attending postpartum appointments for yourself and reaching out with any concerns, no matter how seemingly small, is important.
Postpartum and the months that follow typically are filled with emotions that can be overwhelming at times. A host of issues can drive a decline in maternal health following childbirth. As many as 20 percent of women experience this as anxiety and a slightly smaller percentage deal with postpartum depression. All too often both go undiagnosed and untreated. These conditions can be driven by an impending return to work.
2. Pull together a support system
Whatever you considered as your support system before, know that you may want it to adjust dynamically post baby. Critical pieces of your support system likely will have to do with childcare and, if you choose it, breastfeeding.
Many would-be moms (this one!) while enduring a traditional 8 to 5 grind, anticipate working from home with a newborn to be akin to a walk in the park. And that childcare won’t be a necessity.
Trust me here, working from home with a newborn and without a person who can provide full care while you work, was not something I would attempt again.
On the other hand, a bare minimum of having a caregiver at least several hours, several days a week during the first three months will make for a much smoother transition.
In an ideal scenario, you may decide to line up a care provider well in advance and arrange to have your baby spend a few days with this person(s) before you are committed to being on the job. Whether you opt for daycare, a nanny, nanny share, or if your family will be providing care, having a solid childcare plan is key to a smooth transition.
Breastfeeding presents additional needs for support for working moms changes when you can’t be with your baby at all times. You need a work arrangement and a childcare scenario that accommodates your desire to continue breastfeeding.
Even if you don’t have to commute to an office or do much traveling without your baby, you’ll likely want to be able to skip a feeding or two now and then. You can find lots of resources to acquaint you with what to expect as a working breastfeeding mom.
3. Set up a work arrangement that puts you on a path to succeed
You may already work from home or are considering it. Remote-based work could be a great way to have more time with your growing family and provide other benefits as well. You may want to spend time researching some the dynamics of having a newborn and working from a home office.
Devising a strategy can make a huge difference. Tactics that work for some moms are working while the baby naps, getting a commitment from your co-parent to take the baby off your hands for a certain amount hours during the week and building extra time into your deadlines.
Tap into your network of other work-from-home moms. They’ll have an abundance to share about succeeding as a new mom. Tips are likely to include everything from “wear your baby while you work” to “work while you nurse your baby.”
At first, if you plan to continue being your baby’s primary caregiver, you’ll find ways to work every moment your baby allows you to. This means you’ll want handsfree equipment for your phone, as well as a tablet or other mobile device you can use to do emails and other computer-based work.
As your baby grows, becomes mobile, sleeps less and gets noisier, you’ll likely want a dedicated work area with a degree of sound-proofing. Sometime around the toddler stage, you may be driven to hire a caregiver or take your child to a daycare or preschool.
4. Examine your household needs and family priorities
It’s tempting to expect life and work will go on similar to the way it did before baby. However, changes are more complicated than hanging the “baby on board” sign.
Some experts recommend writing down your family’s priorities and taking a look at the big picture. “There are so many needs and only so much time, so it’s about using the hours most effectively,” says Linda Glass, an executive coach and career strategist, mom, and former director of Global Talent Strategies for Starbucks. Ask yourself about compromises. How important is a sparkling clean house? What about homemade meals every night?
It’s a good idea to spend some time figuring out the costs your baby will bring. You can help baby proof your budget in the nine months you’re waiting for it to arrive. These exercises will inform your timeline for returning to work.
If you’re employed prior to giving birth, be sure to learn the details of any company policy relating to time off due to childbirth or the arrival of a baby. Not all companies offer pregnancy leave, and not all are subject to FMLA. The sooner you learn the details, the easier your transition into motherhood, and then, if you desire, working motherhood. You’ll have enough challenges without having any surprises related to leave.
If you’re self-employed, you may want to look into purchasing short-term disability insurance to provide financial support during your maternity leave.
5. Strive to rebuild your sense of self
Many women are disconcerted by a loss of sense of self they experience as their world shifts in ways they couldn’t have anticipated before having a baby. This can be due to a host of factors but if you are providing good self-care, getting through this identity change will be more comfortable.
Until a couple of decades ago, “self-care” wasn’t talked about all that much. Today it’s fairly widely understood and practiced. That doesn’t mean most new moms get it right off the bat. The importance of practicing it right away cannot be emphasized enough.
A pediatrician blogger put it succinctly: “I remember a mom friend telling me she had booked a day of massages and pedicures for herself a month after her second daughter arrived. I felt slightly annoyed. What a seemingly selfish thing to do. But, in reality, she was doing herself and her family a huge favor.
Another blogger tells what it’s like to disregard the need for self-care.
One powerful way to do self-care is by cultivating a support network beyond what you need for your baby. Whether you are meeting new moms, looking for ways to give back or strengthening bonds with people already in your network, this is key to feeling good.
Finding the right opportunity when you’re ready
Hopefully, you’re feeling like you have a few tools in planning your big return. If you’re considering working from home, know that there are many things to prepare for, but the most significant benefit of growing your career from home means not missing out on precious moments with your family.
Paulette, a Liveops customer service agent from Georgia, describes how she takes care of her family while making a living: “I had always wanted to be my own boss and, after having my son, I decided that the only person I trusted to take care of him was myself. The most rewarding part is not only do I get to see more of my family, I also get a paycheck doing what I enjoy most, helping people.”
To learn more, read Paulette’s secret to running a successful home business and check out work at home opportunities for moms.