During the weeks after birth, when you are caring for your baby full-time, you can also begin to plan for your return to work. But don’t let concerns about leaving your baby get in the way of enjoying this special time. Here are some tips for making the most of your maternity leave, while preparing for the day when you go back to your job.
- The most important thing you can do during this time is build a close and loving relationship with your baby. Nothing is more crucial to your success at combining working, parenting, and breastfeeding than building a strong attachment to your baby. You need this as much as your child does; it will be the foundation of your relationship in all the years to come. It’s also what will motivate you to overcome the challenges you’ll face as a working parent. You can’t get properly attached to your baby if you’re thinking constantly about the day you will need to leave her. Fears about how difficult it will be to leave your baby can get in the way of forming a deep attachment. Holding back on your feelings is bad for both of you. Your baby needs to know that you, her mother, are the one special person she can always depend on. From your point of view, feeling connected to your child and understanding her needs and signals will help you keep your priorities in order when you’re juggling job and family.
- Do everything you can to get breastfeeding off to a good start. Doing everything you can to make breastfeeding work well in the early weeks is important to breastfeeding success after you return to work. You need to breastfeed early and often to encourage your breasts to produce lots of milk. Feeding your baby on cue will get your milk supply in line with your baby’s needs. And your baby needs lots of practice at the breast, so that she develops good sucking skills that will not be affected by artificial nipples later on. The more you can learn about breastfeeding at this stage, the more easily you will be able to solve any problems that might occur later on.
- Plan to take as much maternity leave as you can. The longer you can be with your baby, the easier it will be to continue breastfeeding when you are back on the job. Use vacation time, or any other time off that is available to you. Consider taking an unpaid leave to stay home longer with your baby, if that is financially possible. Sacrificing some income in exchange for more time with your baby may be a worthwhile trade-off at this point in your life. Working only part-time, at least at first, will also simplify breastfeeding. If there is a compelling reason why your baby must receive breastmilk, perhaps because of prematurity or allergies, you may be able to prolong your leave by getting a letter from your doctor.
- Banish worries. “What if he won’t take a bottle?” “What if he won’t take a nap?” “What if she won’t settle down without nursing?” “When I pump milk at home I can pump only a little bit. What if I can’t pump enough milk when I’m back at work?” Don’t let these worries about the future intrude on your enjoyment of your first weeks with your baby. These are legitimate concerns, but at the same time, they are all problems that can be solved. It’s good to plan ahead–but not too much. Look for the answers to these questions in Storing and Transporting Breastmilk, but as the saying goes, “Don’t cross the bridge before you come to it.”
- Learn to use your breast pump. Sometime when baby is sleeping and you have some quiet time, take out your breast pump and learn to use it. See Pumping Step by Step. Figure out how to put it together and how to clean it. Try pumping some milk. Don’t worry if you initially aren’t able to pump a lot ot milk. Pumping is a skill. You’ll get better with practice.
- Put some milk “in the bank.” Having a supply of breastmilk in the freezer can ease worries about staying ahead of baby’s appetite. Try pumping in the morning, between baby’s feedings, or any time that you feel your breasts are full and baby is not especially interested in nursing. Try pumping one breast while baby nurses at the other.
- Get baby used to the bottle – but not too soon. Someone is going to tell you, “Give your baby a bottle by two weeks of age, so he’ll get used to it. Otherwise, he may never take it.” This is poor advice. It’s best to avoid bottles, certainly during the first three weeks because of the risk of nipple confusion. Give baby some time to consolidate what he’s learned about breastfeeding before you present him with a new challenge. A couple weeks before you return to work, begin offering baby the bottle and let him get familiar with it. Don’t obsess about baby accepting the bottle, and don’t force the issue. If baby takes the bottle, fine; if he doesn’t, okay. Let your caregiver solve this problem see Getting Baby to Accept a Bottle. Some babies refuse to take bottles from their mother (sort of a “what’s wrong with this picture?” feeling), yet learn to take a bottle from a substitute caregiver.