It all seems easy before birth. When the time comes, the baby will stay with a nanny/grandma or go to preschool, and Mum will go back to work. However, it’s not so easy after the child is actually born. You hold that most precious human being in the world and you keep convincing yourself how much they need you. And the whole premise of returning to work becomes difficult to bear. How can we deal with that?
When Mum goes back to work, she must prepare the child, herself, and her family for a number of issues. Such as emotions (longing, fears, guilt), new daily and weekly routines, problems with the child falling asleep (a baby missing their mummy during the day may want to play with her at night), tiredness (although work may be actually less tiring than childcare, the mother has simply more things to do every day). Moreover, if the baby is breastfed, there is also the new rhythm of nursing to consider, expressing breastmilk, and the child’s feeding times.
Oh yes, return to work is a never-ending story. Let’s have a look at a few selected problems.
How am I going to leave them for so many hours?
That’s one emotionally charged question. What are you really afraid of? What’s the real problem here?
You’ve decided to return to work. The decision was certainly thought out and calculated. You have a reason to work and you understand why it is important. Now you must do everything you can to make sure that the child is well taken care of and you can work in comfort.
Children need to feel safe and it is your face that informs them if they are. If you’re smiling, they are sure that everything is all right. But if they notice your anxiety, hidden fears, they empathize and feel the same. Calm yourself for the sake of your child, make yourself understand that they are all right when someone else is taking care of them instead of you. Of course, you’re your baby’s most important person in the world, but that does not mean there can’t be other people in their life, who also take care of their needs. Perhaps they have a different way of doing so, but it’s OK too. Better, even - it’s good for the child when they learn new habits, games, rituals.
What if they forget about me?
They won’t! They know and love your voice, scent, warm touch, and the relief they feel when you cuddle. Slowly, they’ll learn that when you leave, disappear from their sight, you always return and that’s when it’s time for cuddling and closeness. There is a strong bond between you, and a few hours of separation won’t harm it. Most importantly, when you return home, remain the well-known, beloved and... usual mum, who isn’t trying to compensate for the “lost time” with different activities and attractions. For a small child, just being together is the most important and the most valuable thing you can offer: reading books, playing at home, walks, cuddling.
If forgetting about a mum was so easy, psychologists would have nothing to do! I’m joking, of course. A close, safe attachment to one’s mother makes the foundation of what people think about themselves and the world. If there is no attachment, or the mother is interchangeably caring and distant (closed, anxious, impatient, and aggressive) - that’s when problems may arise.
What if they are ill?
If a baby stays home with a nanny or grandma, it doesn’t mean they’re more prone to illness. Quite the contrary, it is you who should get tougher before you mix with the crowds on buses, streets, or at work. If you’re still nursing, the baby will get in the milk a new portion of antibodies, ones against the very germs you are in contact with.
If the baby goes to a crèche - they actually may get a bug from other children. Talk to your paediatrician about available vaccines. And prepare a backup plan for the situations when instead of the crèche, you must go to a doctor.
It’s a shame that I have to stop nursing...
But you don’t! Returning to work does not mean that you must stop nursing. As long as you breastfeed at least once a day, breastmilk won’t run dry. You won’t be available all day long, but the baby can suck as they please when you’re home. It will be easier for them to suffer the separation if you don’t add another difficult change: saying goodbye to breastfeeding.
Thinking ahead, before you return to work, try to introduce a new feeding rhythm, e.g. only in the mornings, in the afternoon, and evenings. Besides, they should also eat food relevant to their age. This will prepare both the child and your breasts for the change. At work, you don’t need to express milk if you don’t feel the need. When breasts are painfully swollen, with a pump or manually express only a little milk, until you feel better. Keep the same feeding routine on weekends, and remember that sucking stimulates milk production.
I feel guilty because... I dream about returning to work.
Guilt seems to be a constant companion of all mothers. Like a shadow, it lurks behind and smothers the joys of motherhood. Moreover, usually nothing good comes out of it. When the mother feels guilty, when she’s unhappy, that sadness often affects the child too. Mothers who feel bad as mothers become emotionally distant, nervous, touchy, becomes overly dedicated and angry. Children don’t understand the reasons, they just sense that something bad is going on. They’re anxious, and that constant fear affects their emotional development.
There is nothing wrong in the fact that a woman wants (not only “has to”) work, study, develop. It’s a natural need. Besides, anyone who has spent months taking care of an infant, often without any help from family, realizes how numbing and exhausting it may be.
Motherhood is not a competition. You’re not a better mother just because you’re able to grit your teeth really hard. If you like your job - enjoy it. You’ve given birth and you’ll always be a mother. But you’ve never stopped being a woman with her own dreams, passions, and talents.