Returning to work as a new mother can be overwhelming. Our expert’ advice will help you succeed at both jobs.
While the thought of formulating a coherent sentence, much less assuming your previous job responsibilities, may seem overwhelming at first, it is possible to be a happy (if a bit harried!) working mom. You can accomplish this by overcoming potential hurdles —such as finding reliable child care and creating a feasible schedule early on and learning to ask for help, says Laraine Zappert, Ph.D., author of Getting It Right: How Working Mothers Successfully Take Up the Challenge of Life, Family and Career (Atria, 2002). Giving yourself the occasional reality check is essential, too. The biggest misperception is that everybody else is doing it better than you are,” Zappert says. You just have to focus on what works for you and your family.
So how can you become a working-mom success story? Here'’s guidance from our experts on "the big three"”: child care, breastfeeding and your work schedule.
Child Care: Start Looking Now!
The good news is that the ideal caregiver a warm, nurturing person who understands baby development and safety issues —can be found in various settings: your home (via a family member or nanny), someone else's home or a center, says Dianne Stetson, M.S., project director for the National Infant & Toddler Child Care Initiative at Zero to Three, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that promotes healthy child development.
In addition to considering child care that suits your baby's personality, Stetson suggests taking the following steps: Research options early. “A common mistake parents make is thinking it will only take a few weeks,” Stetson says. Contact Child Care Aware (800-424-2246, www.childcareaware.org) for information on centers and day-care providers; And don'’t overlook the best resource of all: local moms.
To find a nanny, cast a wide net. While agencies charge a fee ranging anywhere from $800 to $5,000, they conduct extensive background checks and interviews —with you and the nannies —to find the best match. However, not all agencies are created equal; go with one that belongs to the National Alliance of Professional Nanny Agencies (www.theapna.org), if possible.
You also can find nanny candidates through online message boards such as Craigslist.org, where you can list free nanny postings in a number of cities. Ask candidates about their training experience and availability to stay late. Checking references is another must, as well as the background checks, including criminal, sexual offender and child protective records. This requires the applicant's written permission (failure to give you an OK is a big red flag). Or hire an agency such as USSearch.com to do the checks for you; their basic nanny-screening service costs $40.
Finally, don'’t forget to check with the IRS and your state taxation department regarding taxes you'’ll need to pay as an employer. The International Nanny Association (888-878-1477, www.nanny.org) has tips on what to look for in a nanny, as well as a salary guide.
If you opt for child care, think low, as in low child-to-caregiver ratio (a maximum of 4-to-1 for infants) and staff turnover rate. “Babies do best with continuity,” Stetson says. “It'’s ideal if your baby can stay with the same caregiver for a few years. Trust your gut. Chances are, your baby will do well in a place you'd like to be,” Stetson says.
Look around: Are babies left unattended in cribs or playpens? Does it smell clean? Once you choose a child-care situation, pay close attention to your baby's behavior. If she's unusually quiet or withdrawn there could be a problem. See what she's experiencing firsthand by stopping by unannounced from time to time (if that'’s too difficult, ask a relative to do it).
Be clear in your communication. Since your caregiver will become an important part of your child's life, communication beyond the quick morning hello and goodbye at night is necessary. Schedule weekly 15-minute chats for the first few months, then monthly meetings to discuss concerns and developmental changes in a distraction-free setting.
Breastfeeding 101 For Working Moms
Pumping your breast milk at work takes energy and planning, but it can quickly become routine, and your baby won't be the only one who is better off.
If you don'’t have an office, use a first-aid station, a vacant conference room or even your car for the 20-minute task. And heed the following advice for pumping success from Doraine Bailey, M.A., I.B.C.L.C., president of the International Lactation Consultant Association:
Learn to pump. A double electric breast pump can get the most milk in the least amount of time. Available in briefcase-style bags, the cost is $160 to $350.
Introduce a bottle or cup once breastfeeding is established —at about four to six weeks. Ask your partner or a caregiver to give your baby pumped breast milk once a day to help you both become accustomed to the change.
Adjust your routine. About two weeks before you return to work, begin feeding your baby when you predict you'’ll be able to pump at work.
Store a week's worth or more of milk before returning to work. Milk can last up to eight days in the refrigerator and three to four months in the freezer, though fresher milk contains more disease-fighting antioxidants, according to recent research.
Create a Practical Work Schedule… For Everybody
Consider cutting back to a six-hour workday and taking a pay cut. Don't think your boss would go for it? “If you'’ve established your value and reputation, it'’s much more possible than you think,” says Pat Katepoo, R.D., founder of Kaneohe, Hawaii-based WorkOptions.com. To negotiate a flexible schedule yourself, consider these pointers:
Thoroughly assess your position. Aim to keep tasks you enjoy and those your boss highly values; delegate responsibilities that offer skill-building opportunities for others.
Write a proposal. Schedule a meeting with your boss, then pitch your well-prepared flexible-hours plan with a seriousness that reflects your level of desire for the new arrangement.
Suggest a trial of three to six months. This allows your boss to say "yes"” while maintaining control over your job structure.
Make an extra effort. If a co-worker picked up your slack one day when you had to take your child to the pediatrician, return the favor when she needs help. And make every effort not to miss crucial meetings.