Going to work with a baby at home has its challenges. Some are challenges any working mom faces, and some are challenges specific to a mom who is still breastfeeding/ pumping. As I start to settle into a routine, I wanted to share my struggles, and some of the lessons I’ve learned so far.
The biggest struggles I have found are:
1) learning how to manage my day so I can pump without missing the last minute meetings or activities that come up, and
2) getting enough sleep so that I can function for an 8 hour work day.
Time management has been a huge learning curve for me. Because I am able to, I am committed to pumping while at work, which means I need to always be conscious of how much time I go between pumping sessions, and coordinate my pumping time with the various meetings and events that I encounter in a day. In the first few weeks, this was ok. I did not have any meetings, and it only happened once or twice where I was late in pumping.
As I get back into the swing of things and my days become more unpredictable, I am becoming very aware of how much planning and time management has to go into every change that comes my way. Need to run across campus to a meeting in an hour? I now have to think about how this interferes with my regular pump time and how long I will be out of the office. Then I can decide if I will need to drop what I’m doing and pump ahead of the meeting, or risk waiting until after. A lesson for anyone pumping at work- always pump early if the option is there, you will be way less stressed and uncomfortable if the meeting runs long or your plans change again.
My other battle, which I am sure every working mom can relate to is getting enough sleep. Conveniently, shortly after I started back to work the moro reflex set in, and the baby went from sleeping 5-6 hour intervals at night to only sleeping 2 hour intervals. Also, when the moro reflex sets in it can be tough to get babies to sleep because they feel as though they are falling and startle themselves awake. There have been many days already where I struggle to keep my eyes open and be productive. Don’t ask about my memory, because that is right out the window most days too. My advice to anyone else struggling with a kid who isn’t sleeping well, do whatever you need to do to get through it. If you need a cup of coffee to stay awake, have the cup of coffee; if you need to take a ‘time out' and spend 30 minutes doing something just because you want to, then go for it.
Being a working mom isn’t all bad, and going back to work can be a semi-enjoyable experience if you have the right supports in place. I completely credit my ability to work when the baby is only 4 months to the supports I have around me. Some of my best assets are:
1. Support at home- going back to work at any time, and especially going back early requires a significant amount of support at home. Whether your partner is choosing to stay at home, or your child is entering day care, having a supportive husband or partner makes an unbelievable difference as the you transition into your new role as a working mom.
2. A flexible work environment- whether you are figuring out a good pumping schedule, jetting out of the office because the baby needs you, or even bringing the baby into the office, flexibility is key. The exhaustion and mental strain of figuring out life with a baby is alot, being in a workplace that supports you as a working mom and believes you are valuable enough as an employee to allow flexibility in your work day is key. The flexibility will help prevent burn out and potentially sick leave or stress leave.
3. Good communication within the office- the first few weeks, I felt incredibly awkward having to interrupt my day to go and pump. It felt counter-productive and I worried that I would not be taken seriously if I talked about taking breaks to pump. Somewhere along the way, I have gotten over that. I have started to find a rhythm, and I have started talking about how I need more than 5 minutes notice to jump into a meeting or run off campus to an event. Talking about why I need a 15 minute break, or why I have missed some of these short notice events is making the process of pumping at work and finding my rhythm much less stressful.
4. Leggings and the ‘mom bun' can be turned into appropriate office attire in most cases. Because I am still not in a consistent size after having the baby, I have a very limited work wardrobe. I have a few nice pairs of leggings, some loose pre-baby shirts, and some summer dresses. In most offices these days, leggings are acceptable with a dressy shirt or a blouse, which makes it much easier to adjust to life in the office. You shouldn’t feel guilty for not fitting into pre-baby pants or need to buy a whole new wardrobe as you navigate the world of going back to work. Also, the mom bun can be a perfectly acceptable hair style. Every morning I make a solid effort to do my hair. I spend a whopping 2 minutes putting some hair product in and hope for the best. By 10 am most days, my patience for moving my hair off my neck or out of my face as I try to do things has worn thin and out comes the mom bun. For reasons I may never know, my mom bun always looks better and more socially acceptable when I do it at work than when I do it at home (this may all be in my head, but I think it looks good). At the end of the day, I still look relatively put together and presentable, but I am making sure that I am comfortable. There are so many changes to deal with after a baby and starting back to work, stressing over a whole new work wardrobe or spending a ton of time on hair and make-up are not things you need to drive yourself nuts over.
As I continue to navigate the world of the working mom, I am sure I will come across more hurdles and lessons which I will share. Until then, I’d love to hear from other working moms. What were your biggest challenges going back to work? What were some important lessons you learned?