Back to work after baby

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Jody Williams loved her job and had worked very hard to move up the corporate ladder. But after she gave birth to her son Colton, now 11 months old, the Maricopa mother found herself facing the difficult decision of whether or not to return to work.

“I already had enough issues to battle with being young and also a woman,” she says. “But with my position it would be impossible for me to regain the momentum my career was on if I did not return. I love my baby but I also have an amazing career. The best thing I could do was return and ensure no matter what happened in life I personally was able to take care of Colton.” For many working mothers, the choice to go back to work is entirely financial. Others feel that the opportunity for adult interaction and the satisfaction of a job well done is essential to maintaining the sanity required to parent effectively. Whatever the reason, the transition from 24-hour mommy to scheduled, effective career woman can be tough on the whole family.

Concerns about breastfeeding, childcare and sleep deprivation from nighttime feedings can quickly become overwhelming. Having a plan in place that prepares all parties for the changes to come can knock out some transitional roadblocks. Sometimes the best way to ease back into the workplace is to do it gradually. Working part-time or working different shifts than your spouse means that one parent is always at home with the baby. After spending three months at home caring for her son Kyle, now 11, Tempe mom Jennifer Fenner and her husband decided that working opposite shifts, at least temporarily, would be the best plan for them and their colicky baby.

“I would work nights and my husband worked days,” Fenner says. “We didn’t have that initial worry about who would be caring for our son.” They met in a parking lot, switched Kyle from one car seat to the other and gave each other a kiss. “I think it was probably even good for our marriage,” Fenner recalls, laughing.

Families who don’t have this option—or who find the schedule less than appealing—often find peace of mind by arranging childcare with a grandparent or other family member.

“My sister, Katrina, is a daycare provider and she was the obvious choice for us,” says Williams. “It was comforting knowing how much my sister loved [Colton], as well as my nephews.”

If you do your homework, you can choose a daycare facility that makes you feel confident that your standards of care are being met. Julie Kirkpatrick, director of Triple R Child Care  in Ahwatukee, advises parents to visit centers and talk to administrator and teachers. “Ask a lot of questions about ratios of caregivers to children, cleanliness, schedules, staff turnover.”

The most important tool parents have in choosing a childcare provider is intuition. “Trust your gut,” Fenner says. “If you don’t feel comfortable with the situation, don’t do it. You can go through as many checklists or background checks as you want to. But nothing can replace that internal monitor that tells you this person is shady or this person is great. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you will be right.”

Choosing childcare is just part of the challenge. Once you’ve made your decision, you have to prepare for the transition to a new routine and environment.

Kirkpatrick encourages parents to begin giving breastfed babies a bottle at least a couple of weeks before the first day at daycare. Enlist the help of others so that your baby becomes comfortable being fed by someone other than mom.

Set the alarm clock a little earlier than usual and make a couple of practice runs before you actually return to work. Many daycare facilities will allow you and your baby to visit and familiarize yourselves with the environment before you actually enroll.

Babies rely strongly on their sense of smell. Sending your baby off with a mommy-scented blanket or plush animal can provide comfort during the adjustment. “Moms will sleep with a blanket or wear it inside their shirt for a couple of days,” notes Kirkpatrick.

Baby isn’t the only one who will be adjusting. If you plan to continue breastfeeding, figure out when and where you will be able to take a pumping break at work and make sure you have an effective pump.

Make sure your employer understands your new priorities and will work with you if you have a sick child or a family emergency. “[You] can’t be afraid to tell your work if you need to go take care of your child. Most employers are understanding and, if not, that is why we have the Family Medical Leave Act,” says Fenner.

A new division of household duties may be in order to make life smooth during this potentially rough time. Split laundry and housework among adults and older children and try to rest on weekends if your baby is still up nights. “There is lots of planning that comes with preparing to go back to work and lots of guilt and lots of fears—irrational and otherwise,” explains Fenner. “But with a little bit of luck and a little bit of love, things almost always work out.”

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