I still remember the first few days of returning to work. We had made the decision that I would return to full-time work, and at five and a half months, boy were we unaware of the rollercoaster it would be.
The entire first day, I had to force myself to think about anything other than the sweet sounds and face of my little man at home. Throughout that day, I had many moments to reflect on what a great opportunity this was to interact with other adults and engage parts of my brain that hadn't been stimulated in months. As a health professional, I was truly looking forward to getting back to helping people improve their health. Despite all of the positives I could list, as soon as the day was done, I ran out the door. The hours of separation felt like days. As soon as I saw my teary-eyed baby that evening, I cried my eyes out, wondering what the heck I was doing.
After deciding that this was something we would push through for at least a few months, I mustered up the courage to venture out on day two, saying to myself, ‘you can do this, give it a real go.’ We planned to maintain giving our little man breastmilk for as long as possible. So, there I was with all my bottles and things organised. The morning felt like it was going fine, up until I spilled the entire bottle of expressed breastmilk before the work day started. Needless to say this made for another very emotional moment in a quiet room, where I was literally crying over my spilled milk.
The next few months were like this, up and down. It went from feeling completely stupid to be back working, when the only thing I wanted was to be at home with my little guy, to really enjoying the meaningful work I was doing, speaking to many mums and mums-to-be about strategies to keep in good health during their journey.
As I reflect on where we have come now, I cannot believe my little Archie is almost one! How we were able to get through those initial months is beyond me. I know I could not have done it without support. Everyone's story is different, and no matter how big or small the challenge may seem, how it impacts you is the most important thing.
I’m blessed to have the full support of my husband, who will drop anything to make sure the day can go better for me. Almost every day for three whole months he made the effort to travel to my workplace and back, so I could keep bonding and breastfeeding my little guy during my lunch breaks. This made the days much easier to get through. Needless to say he has exceeded my very high expectations of the role of the parent at home, a role that I absolutely struggled (and still struggle) to release control over. I’m also so lucky to have such a supportive working environment, with managers who prioritise my wellbeing. I honestly take my hat off to parents who manage or survive a transition like this with any less support, and the added pressures of childcare.
Maintaining good health in this transition has been a holistic approach, with physical and emotional needs being taken into account. Planning meals and snacks ahead of time has been a crucial part of ensuring that I could keep up with the demands of breastfeeding and also energy to fully engage in what I do. My activity levels gradually picked up, starting off with the incidental walking and focusing on managing time as well as energy. Finding a new rhythm with my new routine has taken many months, and I'm still working at it.
So what have I learnt along the way?
1. A supportive environment makes a huge difference. By law, employers are required to accommodate the needs of a mother retuning to work, including flexible hours, flexible break times and facilities for breastfeeding and/or expressing and storing breastmilk, and support to ensure that these needs do not interfere with the usual work role responsibilities and vice versa.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association offers information and toolkits to prepare your workplace as a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace. You can also find more information on the Fair Work website about your rights and further supporting information.
One especially useful resource I've found is Circle In. They are based in Melbourne, and have expanded globally with a huge goal: to support today's working parents. For real stories, tips on planning support for return to work, childcare and all you need to know, go ahead and bookmark this if you’re trying to fall pregnant, or have been thinking about returning to work for years. Follow @circlein on Instagram for updates and tips for the working parent.
2. Meal and snack preparation is crucial- especially whilst breastfeeding. Keep it simple, and focus on choosing foods from the five main food groups. Also check out the Mummy Eats section where I’ll be sharing some ideas for meals and snacks that I love.
3. A double breast pump can save you a lot of time. It can feel like a big expense, but I swear by the Spectra Double Breast Pump. I struggled with a single breast pump for over a month, so it was actually a huge factor in making it realistic to keep up breastfeeding.
4. Be understanding of the change you are going through. There can be so many things to juggle in one day; breastfeeding before work, travel to work, work itself, break times and the logistics of expressing breastmilk (from having clean bottles, to expressing effectively, storing and transporting them back home), returning home, dinner and bath time, preparation of meals and expressing equipment for the next day, and to repeat it all over again. Like anything though, it becomes easier with time. Feeling comfortable and safe, as well as having photos and videos of your baby can help with the let-down reflex and make it easier to express.
5. Transitioning from home to the workplace should never ever make you feel like you are anything less than awesome. There are so many mums who tell me they feel less confident in themselves when planning their return to work. But in fact, as a mother your workplace skills are enhanced by the simple fact that of parenthood. You are more efficient at getting things done, and your time management and project management skills have actually been at use at full capacity whilst you have been home caring for your little one, or little ones. You are nothing less than an asset to your workplace, with all of these new found skills.
Finding what works for you, and your family may take weeks, months and even years, in which time you may find that your kids are off driving and living their own lives. I've learnt to prioritise quality time with my family, and am still learning that everything else doesn't need to be 100% perfect for me to feel like I'm succeeding. The greatest act of love starts with self-love. Not the mushy, hippy kind. Just acceptance of what is.
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