Everyone’s journey towards motherhood is different. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, but I had imagined at the same time I’d have a job. I admired all the women who did both, and I wanted to be able to raise my kids while being personally fulfilled at some exciting career. Well, I finished my master’s degree in library science and got a job as a librarian, and then last year I finally had my beautiful little girl. So I’m doing both as best I can.
But it’s so much harder than I ever imagined.
Here are the 5 top things I wish I’d known before going back to work after the birth of my baby.
5. You Have No Free Time
So one piece of advice – usually unsolicited, let’s be honest – that every new mom receives is that “You’ll have no time!” I heard it, I read it, I tried to prepare for it. And yes, once the baby came, that was true. But in the beginning… I didn’t really want free time. In those first, magical days – even weeks – when I was healing at home and getting to know my beautiful little scrunchy cry machine, I didn’t really care that she took up so much of my time. I let a few chores go, I caught up on TV during nursing sessions, and I slept whenever I could. We even got a schedule worked out eventually. It became my new normal.
And then I had to go back to work, and everything got thrown off. I felt like I could no longer put off the chores that had been piling up, but I had so little time before or after work. I had to choose between doing those chores, or spending time with my baby. The time we had together when I was nursing her became more precious, but it was also harder because I couldn’t choose the time. I was nursing on demand, and while she was generally hungry at the same time, it was hard because I’d have to start and stop whatever I needed to do on her internal schedule, not when it was convenient for me. And where I’d let myself go with the flow when I was on leave, having so little time now outside of work made everything feel rushed and stressful. And I had absolutely no time at all to myself.
So when you go back to work, don’t beat yourself up if you get less housework done than before. You will have no time. It’s okay. You will learn to make do. I learned to really, really appreciate my lunch breaks while I’m at work.
4. Adjustment Can Take Awhile, and Your Priorities Change
Going back to work really took some getting used to. I took as much time off for maternity leave as I could, though to ease the transition I ended up going back part time at first. That definitely made things a bit easier for me, but it was still difficult. I had to adjust my sleep schedule and get back to getting up at the same time everyday. Knowing you’re going back to work and working on trying to set a schedule can help – if you’re able to do it! – but it can still be a rough adjustment at first. A lot of things changed while I was gone, and I had a lot to get used to when I came back. I felt a little out of my depth and I had to really focus to get comfortable with everything again.
It was also harder to keep my mind on work. Being away from the baby, especially at first, made my instincts go just a little haywire and I would worry way more than I should. Was she okay? What if she needed me?! Luckily, my husband was working nights and my mother was helping us out, so I knew my girl was in good hands. It was still nerve wracking, though! If you get worried, too, just try to keep calm. If you have a babysitter or family watching your baby, you can always call or text to check in. And if you’re using a daycare or childcare center, many now have cameras you can watch online!
I also found that – because I had so little time – I didn’t care about the things I used to. No more meal prepping for lunches (though in retrospect, maybe I should have made time for this!), and more days than not I didn’t have time for make up. Some days I had to find time just to get my face scrubbed clean!
3. Pumping Breastmilk is HARD
I’d taken classes on successful breastfeeding while I was still pregnant, and though I was prepared to struggle some and knew there would be a learning curve, it was much more stressful than I had anticipated. Like much, much harder. To be totally honest, I hated it at first. It was so hard, and frustrating, and I felt like I wasn’t doing anything right and it took forever for my milk to come in. I kept at it and it finally got easier, but the beginning was pretty brutal.
And having to pump is even worse.
This won’t apply to you if you’re formula feeding (and while I definitely advocate for breastfeeding, fed is best! No judgement here), but for any breast feeding mommas who are going back to work… If you want to keep giving your baby breast milk, you’re going to have to pump. And it’s awful. First, know your rights. Employers have to provide a private place for you to express milk. I was very lucky, and I had no problems with this and my workplace was really kind and understanding, but I know that’s not everybody’s experience. You’ll need a good breast pump, which your insurance often can provide. My biggest problem was replacing parts and finding time and a place to clean it. They sell cleaning wipes if you don’t have access to a sink at work, or you can bring two sets of parts for pumping more than once and then clean them at home.
I never got as much milk pumping as I did nursing, because my body just didn’t always respond well to it. I made an album of my phone of pictures of my baby which I always look at, and to help with a letdown you can try listening to sounds of your baby laughing or crying, or try the sound of water.
To put it bluntly: it sucks. It’s no fun. But just remember why you’re doing it – for the baby! – that I found that helps a lot.
2. Sometimes, It Feels Good to Get Away
Taking care of a baby is difficult. It can be easier if you have a lot of help, but for some moms that’s just not in the cards. And if you have a baby who has special needs, or who’s sick, or even just is a fussy sleeper or has colic, that difficulty can be compounded. Even if you’re like me, and you have an easy baby and a supportive partner – seriously, my husband has been downright amazing – there are times when you’ll feel worn down. When despite how much you love your child, and despite doing the best you can, there will be times when you just need a break. And when you leave to go to work, sometimes it can feel like a break. You’ll have a quiet moment on your commute to take a breath, enjoy the quiet, and feel a sense of relief.
And then the guilt sets in.
On those days when I just wanted a break, when I was glad to get away to work for awhile, I felt horrible, like I was an awful mother. I felt so guilty, like I was running away, even though I was only headed to work. A place I was obligated to go! This guilt is not at all unusual – but it is totally unnecessary. We’re going to work to do the best for our kids, to help support them, and if it’s enjoyable and personally fulfilling, that’s even better. But it can be hard to quiet that guilt, especially when one of the perks of your job seems to be that – for at least a little while – it’s away from your baby. First, I want to remind anyone feeling this way that it’s totally okay to need a break. It’s okay to want a break. And if you’re feeling stressed out and worn down after a hard night and going to work feels like a break? That’s okay. Find some relief. Listen to your favorite podcast on the way to work, or if you can treat yourself to lunch on your lunch break.
It’s important to ask for help if you need it, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. If you need a break, ask for one. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it just means you’re human!
1. Sometimes It’s Not What You Want After All
This isn’t something that I ever thought I’d say, but I wish I didn’t have to work. I was ready to go back, and I have a job I love, but every day I hate leaving and sometimes it gets harder and harder to force myself to go. I’m really passionate about my field, and I’m sure when my daughter is older I’ll want to work. But right now I don’t. And that is the last thing I ever expected.
Sometimes things change. If you thought you wanted to be a stay at home mom, you might find you miss working. You might find you have to go back to work. Or maybe like me, you thought you wanted to work and it turns out you miss your baby so much you can’t stand it. I remind myself that it’ll get easier, and I focus on the parts of my job that I enjoy. Most importantly, at least for me, I enjoy as much time with my baby as I can while I’m home. I try to soak up every giggle or smile, and I don’t take the time I have for granted.
What about other working moms?
How was your experience going back to work? Any tips or tricks to make it easier? Were you glad to go back to work, or did you – like me – have a really hard time? Let me know!