Returning to work is difficult no matter the circumstances. I have returned to work from maternity leave twice with two very different scenarios and have learned a lot about myself through the process. The first time I returned to work was after only six weeks home with my singleton daughter. I had to go back to work for financial reasons, and was lucky enough to have my mother and mother in law to watch my daughter until the end of the school year. The second time I went back after almost twelve weeks home with my boy/girl twins to a busy finale to another school year. Through both of these experiences I have some tips on how to prepare to return to work.
1. Start pumping, stashing away extra, and invest in a quality pump!
One of the most stressful parts of returning to work for me was trying to “keep up with my babies.” I always stressed that I wasn’t producing enough breast milk or matching what they were eating each day. By starting to pump and freeze breast milk before I went back to work, I had a stash and didn’t have to worry so much about what I was producing at work. Before I went back to work, I would pump about an hour after the second feeding of the day, and freeze the extra.
Also make sure you invest in a quality pump. I bought a Medela Pump in Style for my singleton, and received a free Ameda pump through insurance with the twins. I have to say if I had been forced to use the insurance pump, I don’t think I would have made it to the year mark in both circumstances. A comfortable and efficient pump makes a completely awkward and not particularly pleasant task at least a little more tolerable.
**Bonus: By saving extra milk as you go, you always have some on hand if you are going to go on a much needed date night!
2. Start looking early to find childcare that works for YOU.
I feel like I have had the gamut of child care options, and they all had their pros and cons. One thing I have learned from this process and the variety of experiences is find the childcare that makes you the most comfortable. You have to think about your schedule (everything will take longer to get out of the house in the morning), your budget, the feel of the facility, and your sanity. I toured many facilities before deciding on one, and you will know when you find the right one for you.
Start touring facilities early (before babies are born) as some will have waitlists, and it can be difficult to reserve multiple spots. Family help can be a huge resource, but family dynamics may come into play and can be hard to manage. You have to weigh all of your options. You can ask for recommendations from neighbors, family, and friends until you find childcare that makes you feel comfortable leaving your babies.
3. Allow yourself time to get used to the new normal.
I was able to go back to work part-time for two weeks after the twins were born. After the two weeks were up I returned to work full-time. That transition really helped me slowly get my brain back into work mode, and adjust to being away from those two wonderful beings that had occupied my time for the last twelve weeks.
Returning to work is hard, and there are so many feelings. I struggled with the guilt of leaving my babies, getting back into a routine, finding time for myself, my husband, and my older daughter. It takes time to find your new normal, and find a routine that works for your family. I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing and supportive people throughout my career. They were instrumental in making my return to work manageable. You will need support through this transition, and that support will look like different things from the different people in your life. Take the support where you can get it, and do not feel guilty for accepting a helping hand when it is offered or asking for help when you need it.
4. Every meal does’nt have to be gourmet
There have been so many nights when we get home late, and my husband is travelling for work. I have had to adjust to the fact that a basic dinner is sometimes the only way to keep my sanity. Another idea, which I have never quite been able to manage is to cook on the weekends, and save or freeze meals to reheat during the week. I have never quite been able to manage this myself. I am lucky when I get a menu planned and the ingredients from the grocery store in one trip. My husband also does a lot of the cooking, so when he is home that is a huge help. Do not be afraid to order pizza, especially if you had a rough day at work.
Twiniveristy tip: The Instant Pot is a great time saver for easy meals.
5. Physically getting out the door to go to work will take time and organization
I was never a person that was late for anything, but I can tell you that after trying to get three kids under five out the door every morning I am almost always running late. There are a few things I have learned about getting ready in the morning
- Do NOT get dressed until after you have fed, burped, and dressed your babies. There have been so many mornings where I am dressed and ready to go and then one baby spits up, dribbles milk, or gets some other sort of bodily fluid all over me. My husband teases me, but now I get up, shower, put my make-up on and load up the car, all while still in my bathrobe!
- Get everything in the car before you wake the kids up. I make sure lunches, my bag, and anything else that I would have to carry to the car is already in the car before I wake up the kids. It is hard enough to load up when you are carrying multiples, you do not need to run back to grab all the bags for the day.
- Prep as much as you can the night before. I am not a morning person, and I have to be at work between 7:15 and 7:30 am (which most days is closer to 7:40 am) The fewer things I have to do in the morning, the better. So I prep bottles, pack backpacks, gather diapers, wipes or anything else they are running low on, have all the kids outfits picked out for the next day all the night before.
- Use a baby carrier to help transport to and from the car. I have been asked so many times how I even manage to get all of us to where we need to be every morning. I cannot tell you how important my baby carrier is in that process. I put one of the twins in a baby carrier to go from the house to the car, car to daycare, and back again every day. With one in the baby carrier, I can carry the other on my hip and still have an open hand. Since the twins outgrew their infant car seats, it is the only way I have found to physically be able to carry two babies, their cooler, and still have a hand to open any necessary doors. We look ridiculous, but it works for us.
There are so many transitions that happen during the first few weeks and months of your babies’ lives. Take lots of deep breaths and enjoy the moments you have. Time goes so fast, especially those first few sleepless ones. Making decisions about going back to work is tough on many facets of your family, your marriage, you personally, your finances, etc. These decisions take time, so make sure you give yourself the time to make them and to find the best option that works for your family. Every situation is different, and do not let anyone make you feel guilty for choosing the best option for your family. I have struggled with the guilt and “judgement” of others, but I have found a balance that works for us. I love my children and the time I get to spend with them, but I also love my job. That is my new normal. It is hectic, crazy, and filled with potential meltdowns, but we continue to put one foot in front of the other and find a solution to each new challenge and milestone. Each day at pick up I am greeted with smiles, and it truly makes all of the craziness worth it.
Mackenzie Nickum is the proud mother of a 4 and a half year old daughter, and a set of 10 month old boy/girl twins. She lives in Colorado, and works full time as an Assistant Principal at a large comprehensive high school. She has worked in education for her entire career, first as a high school math teacher, then as a dean of students, and now in administration. She and her family are embarking on many new journeys this year beyond all of the new milestones with their twins. She cannot wait to share their experience and lessons they have learned through this journey.