Going back to work postpartum can be a challenge, but there are ways to help ease you back into the office. Here are some tips from Amelia Peck, LMFT.
Next week I return to work from maternity leave with my first baby. I feel so torn. On one hand, I'm looking forward to getting back into my work routine and seeing my friends there. Even though I feel good about my kid's daycare and I'm grateful for that, I'm struggling with comments I get from people about going back to work. I struggled with post-baby blues and postpartum depression a bit while I was out and I'm deciding if I should try to keep up breastfeeding after I go back to work. I'm also getting a lot of comments about that. I hate feeling like I have to prove I'm a good mom to other people, even strangers. I've got a lot of anxiety and just feel so confused about everything. - Back to Work Mom
Dear Work Mom,
I think for many new mothers, returning to work after maternity leave hits right in the middle of "yes please, I need a break," and "not yet, it went so fast!" Depending on where you live and how much time is allotted for your leave (I know new mothers who went back to work just a few weeks postpartum), going back to work can also hit in the midst of times when hormone levels and experiences of postpartum depression haven't quite settled. There are a lot of things to consider, and while it sounds like you have some big details, like daycare, ironed out, here are a few things that may help ease your anxiety moving forward.
Find a good routine for your family. Babies function well in predictable environments and you will too! The transition back to work after maternity leave is a blend of emotional and logistical factors. Managing elements in your home can allow you to feel more present in the time you have with your baby and more ready to handle unpredictable things that can, and will, come up (I'll get a little deeper into supports around your postpartum depression, but if you are still struggling with that or baby blues, this will also make a huge impact there).
So after your baby goes to sleep, set what you can for the following morning. Daycare supplies, your breast pump (if you’re taking it to work), pack your lunch, or whatever you can do, preparing in this way and making your list shorter for the morning can continue to help you along as get ready each day.
Also, prepare with your employer. Get an idea of what you are walking back into. Will your job require you to hit the ground running full speed? Will you be able to ease back into that environment? Also, make sure you know what accommodations are available for pumping and storing milk if you plan to do that. Many states have laws and regulations, and your company likely has a statement about it as well, that can guide you about what to request before you return. Hopefully, your HR department gave you some information during your pregnancy. In case that didn't happen, now is the time to reach out.
I know you are considering what to do about breastfeeding. All I will say to this is that your choice of how to feed your baby is 100% your choice. If pumping at work and storing breast milk there and bringing it home feels like too much, you are okay. If it works out and you are able to keep it going, also good. Just make sure you are doing what is best for you, because, in the end, that is what is best for your baby.
Remember you have been through a lot. Childbirth, baby blues, hormonal changes, and experiencing postpartum depression to any degree, then going back to work while you're just coming out of everything, is a lot. And we can just sit with that.
A huge positive to this season in your life, is that postpartum supports are increasing at a fabulous rate as awareness of postpartum depression continues to increase and organizations list Postpartum Support International (postpartum.org) makes huge strides in training therapists and psychiatrists to be better equipped in guiding new moms through postpartum depression, anxiety, and other challenges that come their way.
Being aware of your mental health during this time is incredibly important. You mentioned you are experiencing postpartum depression, so if you haven't already, check in with your doctor to see if an antidepressant is appropriate for you. There is no shame in taking psychotropic medications to help you bounce back and feel a bit more balances postnatal. Talk therapy and support groups are also an excellent resource to tap into. Many therapists now offer sessions via webchat or phone to accommodate more flexibility, and is work looking into!
Also, consult a lactation specialist if it's really important for you to continue to breastfeed. They will often have great tips and tricks to help you get optimal results as you get the hang of work-life balance.
As with everything, from pregnancy to parenting, give yourself grace and remind yourself that it’s ok if your plans change. During my first pregnancy, I had a birth plan. I was going to nurse for a year, have a sleep schedule for my kids, and for whatever reason, I had strong determination to not allow my kid to eat mac n cheese. Well, I had an unplanned c-section, and greatly struggled with nursing and milk supply. Sleep was a mystery and we have so many boxes of mac n cheese in our pantry, it’s embarrassing.
I remember with each baby (we have three now) wondering if it was ok to stop pumping and worrying about their adjustment to daycare and praying they nap decently. And each time, my kids turn out just fine. They’re great.
The world offers so many versions of parenting guidelines and choices. It's enough to trigger more symptoms and anxiety than you bargained for. What's most important, and will help keep your anxiety at a minimum, is to make sure you and your partner are on the same page. Walking through your postpartum journey together will help you feel more confident in going forward. It will also continue to help you feel more supported in your process.
Always remember to take everything in stride. You will be great, just feel your way through it. Best of luck to you, and all other Work Moms!