Going Back to Work: 7 Tips to Survive

One of my readers posted the following on my Facebook page:

How did you prepare? What helped? How long did it take to get a routine down when you were back at work? I'm already thinking about stocking meals, getting all my clothes ready, etc. for my return in 4 weeks but I'm interested in your experience. 
Happy to oblige!

Going back to work posed huge anxieties for me.There were so many unknowns - since I planned to continue to breastfeed, how would going back to work affect that? What would our new routine be? How would I adjust to spending all my time with the baby, and then spending only a few hours each day?
This was the morning I went back to work.

At the same time, I felt excited to go back so that I could back into a "routine" and also so I could talk to adults again. But more than excited, I felt so sad, which is natural, if you feel that way, too. I felt guilty for leaving Liam when he was only 12 weeks old. I've never wanted to be a SAHM - I enjoy work - but going back at 12 weeks really did seem too early.

In any case, I didn't have a choice in the matter and on March 23, I returned to work after having been out since December 16.

Given that it's now June, I'm happy to report - I survived the first day back, and have survived every day since! It's not easy but it gets easier. Some days I miss him more than others - mainly on Mondays!

Here are some tips that I felt helped EVERYONE in our family adjust to this new way of life.

1. Spend time away from the baby before the big day. 
If you're like me, you spent most of your waking moments (which at the time felt like 22 out of 24 hours a day) with your little one, and rarely left him/her with anyone else. I strongly suggest taking some time in the weeks leading up to your return and getting out of the house alone. If you can leave your babe with someone other than your husband or a family member, even better.

This builds up your trust that someone other than you can take care of your baby. And it boosts confidence that everyone will survive when you leave the baby.

For me, I started small - having drinks with girlfriends or going for a manicure while Bryan was home. Worked up to having grandparents babysit while visiting. And finally, we did a trial run with the nanny. Which brings me to my next tip:

2. Do a trial run. 
The week before we (me and the other mom in our nanny share) went back to work, we arranged for our nanny to come watch the boys for a few days. The first time was a half day, the second time was a full day. We had her arrive each day at the time she would arrive when we went to work.

On those days, I treated them as though I was going back to work. I'd set my alarm, shower/get ready, feed Liam, get him dressed and then "drop him off" in the living room, and off I went. Of course, both days I cried leaving him, but being gone made me so excited to see him again in a few hours. And honestly, the time passed quickly.

The trial made leaving on the actual day SO much easier. It also helped with getting me used to pumping during the day, as well as knowing how much time to budget in mornings. (Side note: Not once in the three months I've been back to work has our morning routine ever gone the way it did during our trial run. So there's that. :) ) And it also helped to know how much food Liam was eating while I was gone, so I could make sure to leave him with enough milk.

Also, ask your care provider to send pics throughout the day.
It makes my day and puts me at ease!

3. Trust your care provider
We chose to go the nanny share route, which I love so much. Liam gets one-on-one time, like he would with me, but also the social interaction of having another little one his same age. We interviewed probably 7 nannies. There were only a few who I felt good about leaving the boys with. Thankfully, one of the accepted our offer and we love her!

I can't stress enough how much easier going back to was knowing that Liam is in good hands. He loves his nanny, and the little boy who comes over. It is a good situation for everyone, and I can rest easy knowing he is having a blast at "school" while we are gone every day.

4. Introduce a bottle
This one's for my breastfeeding mamas. I didn't have an issue with this, as Liam started with a bottle before the breast in the NICU. BUT I can't tell you how often I hear moms who are going back to work and wait until the week before to give baby a bottle. Lo and behold, the little one won't take it! They like the boobies.

Just my two cents is that introducing a bottle early, say for maybe one feeding a way will at least give you time to find bottles/nipples that your baby likes, and help them get over the whole nipple confusion thing. Liam has never seemed to have a preference, which is nice, but many babies are not that way. We use Medela/Avent bottles and nipples, and both work great. He also likes the disposable nipples that come with Similac formula.

Not to mention that bottle feeding helps you get used to pumping, and allows Daddy to get in on feeding time. CLUTCH in the early weeks, especially when Mama needs to sleep!

5. Prep as much as possible
This tip is more for after you go back to work, as I'm still learning this three months in. The more I can get done in the evenings, the more likely I am to be on time to work the next day. 

Things I would typically do in the morning (pre-baby) include showering, picking out my clothes, making my lunch, packing my bags, etc. I've found since being back to work that I am so tired and also, taking care of a baby, that I don't have much time to do these things in the morning. 

I try my best now to pack my lunch, shower, pick out my clothes for the next day, pack my computer bag/pumping parts, and have it all together the night before. I even like to pick out what I'll put Liam in for clothes. This way, in the morning, I can sleep a little later, feed/dress Liam, hand him to the nanny, go get dressed and put on my makeup, grab all my things that are already together, and get out the door.
Going on walks is more fun than prepping 
for the next day at work.

I will admit that I often get lazy in the evenings and don't do any of this, thus resulting in being late to work every morning (Thank Goodness for flexible jobs and good bosses), but my intentions are always pure! I can't imagine life if I had to get Liam out the door in the mornings. I only have to take him to the living room!

And I know I could just have the nanny feed/dress him, but Bryan and I look forward to that hour or so in the morning with Liam. We usually get him out of bed, bring him back into bed with us and I'll nurse him, then we'll all play together before we all heave ourselves out of bed to get ready for the day. Those moments are more important to me than getting to work on time.

6. Be flexible
I think the most important thing to remember when going back to work is that things happen that you can't plan for. Babies get sick or go through sleep regressions and growth spurts, and maybe you get way less sleep than you have been. Maybe your baby sleeps in (aka your alarm clock) and therefore, you're running late to work. Maybe you have what you *think* your routine will be in the morning, and come to find that it doesn't work for you at all.

You've just gotta tweak and adjust until you settle into something that feels good for your family. My husband and I have our routine worked out in the morning, and also after work, and so far it's working. We had one for when baby wasn't sleeping and adjusted when baby started sleeping, etc. It's all a balancing act and seems overwhelming, but you'll figure it out - I promise.

7. On Breastfeeding and Working
One other thing that I remember being hard to adjust was nursing vs pumping. I went from exclusively nursing (save for a couple of pump sessions each day to build up a stash) to basically exclusively pumping. When I first went back to work, I had the nanny try to not feed Liam a bottle right before I got home from work, so that I could nurse him when I got home. I'd also nurse him before bed. While that worked for awhile, we eventually stopped because it wasn't working with Liam's eating schedule.

Now, I nurse Liam for night feedings when he needs them and then in the mornings when he wakes up. Otherwise, he gets bottles while I'm gone, and then I feed him a bottle before bed. I chose to start doing this during his sleep regression so that we could know he was getting enough to eat and that hunger was not overly contributing to his night wakings. I pump about 4-5 times/day (3 at work plus once or twice in the evenings). 

Also with this, if you pump while on maternity leave, you can start to stash some milk to have for when you go back. Your body might need time to adjust to making enough for baby while you are gone, and if you're ever having off days with supply, you can turn to the freezer!

Going back to work is not easy, but we've all gotta do what we've gotta do. And the one thing I like to keep in mind is something a co-worker told me when I returned. 

She said that although it's so hard leaving them when they are so young, they honestly don't remember if you were there or not. She said now that her kids are more grown (5 and older), NOW is the time she is pulling back from work and wanting to stay home more because that is the time when your kids remember if you came to soccer game or show-and-tell at school.

No matter how hard your first day back is, it will get easier. I promise promise. YOU GOT THIS!

Any other working mamas have tips for going back to work?

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