Should You Go Back to Work?

Help for making the difficult post-baby employment decision

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It’s not always easy to make the transition from maternity leave to dealing with back-to-work guilt and anxieties.

Your beautiful bundle has arrived, and it’s already time to go back to work. As with most working mothers, you’re more than likely experiencing endless anxieties. Should I return to work or not? Have I bonded enough with my baby? Can I still breastfeed? Do I look all right? Do I have enough time to do everything? I can’t leave my baby!

These stressed-out, being-pulled-from-all-sides feelings are perfectly natural. Look at all of the change you’ve experienced recently! Here are some tips to help smooth your transition back to work.

Really, should I return to work or not?

Questioning whether or not to return to work after having a baby is common. What makes it more confusing is there’s nowhere to look for a definitive answer; it’s a very personal decision. Oodles of case studies have been done to determine whose offspring is better developed, the child of a working mother or the child of a stay-at-home mother—yet no black and white conclusions exist. In fact, the conclusions are often contradictory. So how do you know what to do? Think objectively and consider the following:

  • Don’t make the decision until after you’ve spent some time at home with the baby. Once you’re settled in with your newborn, the answer may become clearer. You may feel that being home with him/her is the best thing since sliced bread. On the contrary, you may feel that you couldn’t possibly focus on just the baby, every day. You may even decide to work part-time.
  • List your priorities and what’s most important to you in life. Baby, family, financial security, career, and/or luxuries may be included. Putting it on paper sometimes makes things easier to see realistically. Then ask yourself if returning to work or staying at home will best meet the most important priorities.
  • Will you be able to leave your baby with another caregiver? Do you feel comfortable with daycare, or is there a family member available and willing to care for your child? Do you feel there is no one else who can do the job like you can?
  • Honestly assess your personality traits and ask yourself whether or not they fit more appropriately with working or staying at home. For example, are you energetic? Do you adapt well to change? Do you handle stress well? Are you good at multitasking? Know yourself and be honest.

Whatever you decide, remember that you’re in the middle of tremendous adjustment. Babies require sacrifice, whether you’re at home full-time or working full- or part-time outside the home. Discussing your concerns and thoughts with your spouse, family, friends, or physician may help you with decision-making and stress relief.

Can I still breastfeed?

Studies suggest that if you breastfeed for even a short while your baby will receive nutrients that help build important immunities and reduce risk of allergies. Breastfeeding after returning to work is done successfully every day. It takes careful planning and determination, but it’s definitely doable.

  • Discuss your plans to continue breastfeeding with your supervisor. Plan in advance where and when you will express your milk at work. Evaluate your daily schedule and choose time when you won’t be rushed or disturbed. You’ll need about a half hour each time you express, including clean-up time.
  • Make sure you have a cool place to store the expressed milk; bring a cooler to work if necessary.
  • Wear easily opened clothing and a nursing bra if possible. Struggling with inappropriate breastfeeding attire can cause you to be less relaxed and add more time to the task of expressing your milk.
  • Wear nursing pads in your bra to keep leaks from spoiling your professional appearance.

How will I have time to do everything?

Be careful not to get a case of Supermom Syndrome. It’s common to feel like you have to do everything perfectly, but remember that you don’t have to have the cleanest house in the country! There are many things you can do to become more organized and less stressed.

  • Task-share at home. Identify tasks that need to get done and decide who will perform each one. Communicating openly and being flexible with one another will reduce misunderstandings and stress.
  • Have a schedule and stick to it. Routine is key when adjusting to the many duties associated with a new baby. Having a routine will make you feel more organized, and knowing what to expect each day will lower your stress level.
  • Always look for shortcuts. Chores at home and work can, more than likely, be done less perfectly. For example, straighten the house more often, as opposed to thoroughly cleaning it each time.
  • Have a daily checklist and manually check each item off as it is completed. You’d be surprised at how motivating it can be to see items being crossed off of a list.
  • Multitask as often as possible. For example, file, fold laundry, or cook dinner while you’re on the phone.

How can I leave my baby?

lt can be scary to think about being away from your precious little one after what probably feels like a short maternity leave. While it’s normal to wonder if you’ve sufficiently bonded with your child, remember that bonding takes place over time, through day-to-day interactions. It doesn’t occur in a set number of days.

Taking your time when choosing a caregiver will go very far in reducing your anxiety levels in this area. The more you trust your caregiver, the less time you will spend worrying about your baby while you’re at work. If you still find it difficult to focus on work, call your caregiver during the day to check on your child. This may help you feel less removed from your child’s weekdays.

Going back to work can be difficult after having a baby; there is often a lot of guilt associated with returning to a job. But, women who decide to stay at home have guilt issues as well. They may feel as though they’re not contributing financially or that their careers are suffering. What’s important is being honest with yourself. Don’t let others put unrealistic expectations on you because of their own views. You will be a great role model for your baby!

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