The birth of a baby changes everything for a mom. From her body to her routine to her very identity, a new mom has a lot to get used to in a very short time, and for working mothers, things will change again when their maternity leave ends.
After the baby is born, women spend a few weeks or months totally focused on their newborn, but it doesn't take long before they have to return to work and have to figure out how to balance their job with their role as a mom. Some moms have just figured out how to get through a day of feeding, diapering and cradling their newborn before they have to figure out how to get themselves cleaned and fed and to work on time. And babies have a lot to get used to as well.
In the United States, different companies have different policies as it relates to maternity leave, so some women are back to work within six weeks while others have three or four months at home. Either way, the end of maternity leave can be difficult. For some moms, the first week back to work is even harder than the first week at home with the baby.
Here are the 15 hardest things about the end of maternity leave.
15 Stranger Danger
One of the hardest things a mom will ever have to do is to leave her newborn in the care of someone else. It can be difficult even to leave the baby with his daddy to take a shower in the first few weeks of his life, and the thought about trusting anyone else to the task is even more daunting. At the end of maternity leave, new moms can have night terrors about leaving the baby with the care giver, even if it is her mother — but the absolute worst is when it is a stranger.
Babies experience fears of strangers too. They pick their favorite people early, and it's almost always mom. Everyone else can be greeted by big screams at certain periods, and that can include dad, grandma and certainly a daycare teacher that the baby is unfamiliar with. The level of unease depends on how old the baby is, but no matter what, it can make it even more difficult for a mom to leave her little one at the end of maternity leave.
14 Postpartum Work Wardrobe
A postpartum physique is a strange thing. One mom can leave the hospital in her pre-pregnancy jeans and another — most moms — still looks like she never gave birth. The belly can go down on its own, or it could take a lot of work. Sometimes breastfeeding helps and sometimes it doesn't. At the same time, the breasts can go through various stages and sizes in the days and weeks after birth.
Most moms are most comfortable in that initial postpartum period in stretchy pants and big shirts. They may skip bras altogether, or use comfy nursing bras and camis. But when maternity leave ends, she has to find something professional to wear. Even if a mom has lost all of the baby weight — and for most it can take an entire year — her body may not look the same as it did before, and those power suits could look a lot less powerful. Before the maternity leave is over, new moms should definitely try on their wardrobe before heading back, but no one wants to invest in new clothes so soon, especially when they are hoping to keep bouncing back. It's too soon — and so very hard to get dressed for work.
13 Stockpiling Milk
Moms do a lot in the first few months of a newborn's life, but one of the most important and stressful jobs is making sure that the baby is fed. That's especially true if a woman is breastfeeding, since her body is responsible for providing the sustenance that keeps the baby healthy and strong. She has to feed the baby morning, noon and night, and knowing that she is the only provider of the milk can be intimidating, especially in the first few weeks when the baby's growth is such hot topic at the doctor's office.
Going back to work means that a mom has to figure out how to get the milk to the caregiver so that the baby can have a meal every two or three hours, so that means that many moms pump milk for the days and weeks leading up to the end of the maternity leave. At the same time, she's still nursing her little one, so there may not be much milk making it into the bottles. That's when the stress level goes up even higher. Even though a mom technically only needs about 6 to 10 ounces for the baby's first day, depending how old the baby is when she goes back to work, she hates to leave her baby with the possibility of being hungry. Building up a stock for the baby is hard on the body and the spirit, and it's definitely one of the most difficult parts of going back to work.
12 Mommy Brain
We've already talked about how hard it is to concentrate when you go back to work after maternity leave, but it can also be difficult to string a complete sentence together and even to make change when you are a new mom. That's because mommy brain is real. There are scientific studies that show that mothers lose a portion of their brain power during pregnancy and right after it. But some moms don't really feel it until they head back to work and have to put their brain back to work on things they haven't worried about in weeks.
Things like keeping track of the keys and remembering to pick up the briefcase can be missed because of mommy brain. Sometimes, new moms lose their train of thought mid-sentence, and that can be embarrassing in a board meeting. Mommy brain can be a constant battle, but it's the worst when you are trying to prove yourself when you come back from maternity leave. No one feels confident when their brain isn't on full power, so that makes the return to work even more difficult.
11 Mommy Guilt
No matter how much a woman values her career and how excited she is to return to work, the end of the maternity leave can be plagued with mommy guilt. It may be the first time that a woman has to worry about balancing her baby's needs with something else, and all too often, people tend to judge women for deciding to go back to work. New moms feel so terrible already about having to miss precious moments with their newborn, but unfortunately many people pile on by telling them that they should be a stay-at-home mom.
Giving it all to being a good mom and giving it all at work can be exhausting, and too often it comes at a period of time when the body is still recovering from pregnancy and delivery. Many moms end up feeling like they are failing at both things, so the emotional toll can be difficult at the end of maternity leave — and there are still postpartum hormones shifting that make everything worse. The mommy guilt can be extreme when a mom goes back to work, but it does get better.
10 Mind At Work
Getting back to work can be so difficult after spending time at home with a new baby. It's not just physically hard; it's also a big mental switch. Newborns can take every bit as much brain power as engineering, especially for sleep-deprived new moms — so it's not that moms haven't been thinking throughout their maternity leave; it's that they have to switch their mind from motherhood back to work.
Even if a woman can't wait to get back to a project and she spent hours rocking her baby and secretly thinking about new strategies and working out details, getting back to it at the office can still be tough. It's hard to concentrate when your arms feel empty for the first time in weeks, and when your body is still reminding you of the baby while your co-workers constantly ask about the little one. It can take a while to balance the role of mom and employee and freely switch your mind back and forth. It's so hard at the beginning, but it will get better.
9 Introducing the Bottle
No matter how much milk the mom pumps in the days before she goes back to work, it won't do any good if the baby won't take a bottle. Many breastfed babies reject bottles, since they would prefer the comfort of being in their mother's arms, especially if that is the only way that they have gotten milk before. So one major step before going back to work is to figure out how to get the baby to take a drink from something other than the breast.
This can be pretty difficult on moms, and that's why most lactation consultants and paediatricians suggest that the mom actually leave the room — or better yet, the house — when the baby takes the bottle the first time. While a bottle nipple may feel unfamiliar, and the arms of daddy or grandma are different than mom's, a baby is likely to be more willing to give the bottle a try if they don't see, hear or smell mom around. They may cry for a while, which can be torture for a mom and may lead to her wanting to swoop in and rescue the baby. That doesn't help getting the baby to try a bottle though, so it's better if she isn't around. She probably wants to pump at the same time, to keep up her supply and have the next bottle ready for baby. It's OK if the baby balks a bit, and it may take a while before the baby gets through a couple of ounces. But that's OK. It's another difficult step that comes at the end of maternity leave.
8 Planning the Diaper Bag
Leaving the house with the baby is intimidating from the beginning. Figuring out all of the things that you may need for the baby is hard — and then cutting back a little so that the diaper bag doesn't weigh a ton is another confounding step. It makes even a trip to the doctor's office difficult when you have to pack a change of clothes, some spare binkies and bottles and plenty of diapers and wipes. Knowing what the baby will need for an entire day takes it to an extreme.
Moms should definitely plan the diaper bag with help from her care provider. She may be able to leave a couple sets of clothes at the daycare, and they may have their own blankets. But the baby will need his own pacifier or two, all of the bottles that are needed, some burp clothes and socks and so much more. The diaper bag can be daunting, and it will definitely take trial and error for the first weeks weeks after maternity leave ends.
7 Morning Routine
During maternity leave, a mom's routine is solely established by the baby. She probably feeds and changes diapers at regular intervals, but in those first few weeks and months, the process happens on demand, not necessarily when the clock struck a certain hour. Many times meal times for mom are sporadic and even taking a shower isn't a regular morning occurrence.
But when you get back to work, you have to get back to a routine. Setting the alarm to get up at a certain time, whether the baby is crying or not, can feel strange, and getting breakfast, cleaning up and getting makeup and hair done in time to leave for the office is a lot different when you have to stop to take care of baby's needs and get him ready as well. Establishing a new morning routine can be really difficult, since things are the same but different. There are a lot more steps and a lot more things that can go wrong and add on to the time, such as a spit up incident that causes the mom and baby to need to change and maybe even wash her hair. It's tough to get to the office on time for at least a few weeks, but eventually, mom and baby will settle into a routine — but a poop explosion could put a big kink into it without any notice.
6 Feeling Overlooked at the Office
After being out of the loop for a few months, many new moms have a hard time getting their bosses to put them back in the same standing as before. We're not talking about job titles, since it is illegal in the U.S. in most cases for a woman to get downgraded for having a baby. But when a woman is used to being the go-to person for a certain situation and constantly asked her opinion, she could feel overlooked for a while when the boss goes back to the people who had been providing that advice and expertise while she was gone.
Sometimes, bosses are trying to be nice by not overwhelming a new mom with big assignments, but for women who couldn't wait to get their old life back, it isn't doing them any favors. As hard as it sounds, sometimes women need to speak up and talk to their bosses about how they want to go forward. New moms shouldn't have to prove themselves all over again, but it can be difficult if they feel overlooked and have to speak up to get their boss to give them the same opportunities.
5 Can't Wait to Get Home
The first day back at work after maternity leave may be packed with work getting back up to speed, but that doesn't always mean that 5 o'clock comes quickly. In fact, it can feel like the longest day ever, especially when a mom can't wait to get home to her little baby. No matter how excited she is to get started in the morning, the afternoon can drag on.
It can be especially hard if a mom is trying to plan out a nursing session after she gets home. Her body will remind her of the clock, making it hard to concentrate for the last hour or so in the office. It can be impossible to keep your thoughts on finishing up the last emails and putting the last details of the day to rest. Women who used to work late into the evening will find themselves getting out the door as soon as it hits 5, so they can spend a couple of hours with their baby before bedtime. It might take a little while to be comfortable staying past 5, and that's OK, as long as moms do their best to concentrate through the afternoon.
4 Preparations for Pumping at Work
Breastfeeding a baby is a difficult task in and of itself — being a pumping working mom is another skill altogether, and it's so hard, especially in the early days. Even if you have pumped for weeks at home, getting started at work is like tackling another big beast. First of all, many women get embarrassed talking about breastfeeding and pumping because it basically means you have to talk about your breasts — to your boss or human resources representative.
By law, most offices have to provide a place for a woman to pump, but some companies are better than others about finding suitable options. It can be embarrassing to excuse yourself from meetings. While things can get easier over time, many working moms end up quitting pumping and maybe even nursing all together if any problems persist. Starting out, though, is the worst, and any woman who gives it a go definitely deserves kudos for all that she does to balance her life at work and her life as a mom.
3 Getting Hubby to Help at Night
Even the most hands-on dads don't always share the baby duties in the middle of the night. They may trade off for the first week or so home with baby, but when they go back to work and mom stays home for maternity leave, many couples end up allowing the dad to sleep at night knowing the mom may be able to catch a few naps during the day. That should end when the maternity leave ends.
It's a lot easier to convince the dad to help at night when the baby is first born, but after a couple of months, the dad tends to get spoiled again. He has a harder time taking his turn, and the mom may feel guilty and not push as much to get him to do his fair share at night, especially if she continues to breastfeed. But mom is going to work now too. She needs her sleep just as much as anybody. It can be a struggle to get through the day if daddy doesn't help her out some.
2 Finding Mommy Friends
Work friends are the friends that most of spend more time with than anyone else. They see the stress that you go through every day and can be great at helping you talk through your frustrations with your boss, your anxiety about a project or any number of issues that your spouse or your other friends don't get like they do. But relationships change when you have a baby, and that can include the relationships at work.
As much as a woman wants to catch up with her work friends, when she returns from maternity leave, she also wants to talk about her experiences as a new mom. She will probably gravitate toward the moms at work, especially ones that are also new at it. For a few months, at least, they will probably have more conversations about the baby than about work, and that's OK. Finding mommy friends at the office can really help in the transition back to work, since they have also gone through the end of the maternity leave. It might be hard to start out, but making new mommy friends is definitely worth it.
1 Colic Central
Moms have different lengths to their maternity leave depending on their employer, their financial situation and other more personal factors. But the time period guaranteed by the government is three months, so that is one of the most typical lengths of time. The problem is, that's also about the time when colic starts to set in for babies, and that can make the end of maternity leave the hardest thing of all.
All a woman wants to do after work is spend quality time with her newborn, but that late afternoon/early evening time frame is the worst period for babies with colic. They can cry for hours, and that is tough, especially when a mom hears that her child was happy all day at daycare, but he seems miserable at home with her. It can take a few months for the colic to subside, so that can mean a lot of misery, and a terrible trade off for returning to work.
Sources: WorkingMomsAgainstGuilt.com, Vogue