Back to work post natal blues

Written by julie christensen
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Balancing a career and family

Back to work post natal blues
For many new mothers, balancing the return to work with new motherhood is more taxing on their conscience than it is their time. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

If you want to work for your personal wellbeing, then work. If staying home with your kids makes you happy and you are financially able, then stay home. A happy mum is a good mum.

— Stacey Weiland

Stacey Weiland was finishing medical residency when her first daughter was born. “I took a month off before going back to work," she said. "It was an intensely exhausting experience, and I felt incredible guilt about not being a good mum, but my husband was still in medical school so I didn’t have a choice.” Weiland’s experience is echoed by many women who may have satisfying careers but feel torn once a new baby arrives. A study by MyWorkButterfly.com found that the No. 1 hurdle women experience in going back to work is fear, followed by guilt. The key to combining work and children, said Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a marriage and family psychotherapist, is good planning. “It is crucial that the couple take on the back to work step together," O’Neill said. "It is not just about the mum going back to work; it is about a couple moving into a new developmental period that will take both of them becoming the absolute best team that they can be.”

Make a plan

Start the discussion with your partner as soon as you learn you are pregnant, said Amy Kossoff Smith, founder of The MomTini Lounge, a website about motherhood. “This is not something that will work itself out,” she added.

Talk about changes in your budget, schedule and workload. Figure £400 to £1000 per month for child care into your budget, and begin saving that money before the baby comes. Set aside time each week for yourself and your partner. A 2008 study by the Families and Work Institute found that mothers who take time for themselves weekly feel less work-related pressure than those who don’t.

Research your company’s parental leave policies. As an employee you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave making one year in total. The combined 52 weeks is known as Statutory Maternity Leave.

Be flexible

Few women can anticipate the changes a new baby brings, and they often find that the career they previously loved doesn’t fit their new role. A willingness to make adaptations reduces the stress new mothers feel.

Weiland had worked hard to become a doctor, but she quickly found that medicine and mothering didn’t work for her. “I always felt torn," she said. "If I was doing a good job mothering, I was neglecting my patients.” She opted to quit practicing medicine after her third child was born to stay home and has never regretted that decision.

Such career decisions are a matter of personal choice, she said. “If you want to work for your personal wellbeing, then work. If staying home with your kids makes you happy and you are financially able, then stay home. A happy mum is a good mum.”

Many mums opt for part-time or work-from-home options. Currently, if you are an employee with 26 weeks continuous service with your employer (which can include your maternity leave) and who has parental caring responsibility for a child who is 16 or under, or a disabled child 18 or under in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, then you have the right to request flexible working and your employer has a duty to consider it.

This might seem to offer the perfect balance, but you’ll probably still need child care and support from your partner and family. Darla DeMorrow, a certified professional organiser and author of “The Pregnant Entrepreneur,” said she avoided finding permanent child care briefly because she worked at home.

“My most vivid memory of that first year is the struggle to find occasional day care for meetings and appointments," DeMorrow said. "I finally found a permanent day care situation one day each week, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.”

Registered dietitian Yvonne Quinones Syto worked out a job-share arrangement after returning to work. For child care, a close friend offered to watch her baby, and she traded babysitting with other friends to fill in the gaps. "It really does take a village to raise a child,” she said. Friends and family members also can help.

Keep perspective

Returning to work after having a baby can seem like a daunting task, but by developing a plan and taking care of yourself, you'll find ways to achieve your goals.

Mums returning to work often feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety and guilt. Set clear boundaries between work and home, and take advantage of every moment you have with your child.

The experience of daily nurturing moments with your child will reduce fears and feelings of guilt. "Breathe," said Smith, "and remember that many other women have walked this path before you. You will survive, as will your baby."

“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” advised Weiland. Working mothers set a positive example for their children, contribute financially to the family, and grow personally and professionally. “Just be there in whatever capacity you can, doing the best you can,” said Weiland, “and it will be enough.”

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