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Going Back to Work After Baby: Should You Do It?

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Updated on Feb 13, 2012

Pumping bottles at work and a blaring alarm clock after a sleepless night are the furthest things from your mind while cradling your new infant, but these events are an eventual reality for most new moms. For many families, mom’s return to the workforce is a financial must—or an agreed-upon eventuality. 

The number of women saying sayonara to life as a stay-at-home mama has risen steadily over the past 40 years. In fact, the 2010 Census Bureau revealed that 59 percent of new mothers were either working or looking for work in 1998—up from 31 percent in 1976. New mothers aren’t taking a leisurely break with their new babes either—in 2008, 62 percent of women who gave birth within the past year had already packed up the breast pump and rejoined the labor force.

Before talking to your partner about whether or not you’ll go back to work, consider these points:

  • Increased cash flow. Let’s face it; money’s usually the driving factor in most marital decisions. Going back to work can ensure a more comfortable financial situation for you and your spouse—however, day care centers and nannies can cost a pretty penny. Jot down a list of monthly expenses and compare that to your paycheck. Will working cover the cost of childcare and be worth the time you’ll spend away from your baby?
  • Career calling. If you love your job, you don’t want all of the time and effort you’ve put into working to go to waste. Prior to welcoming your baby, chat with co-workers who have kids—they’ll provide insight into your company’s postpartum work policy. Have this information handy when you approach upper management to discuss maternity leave and a post-birth work schedule. You may even be able to work part-time, or take certain tasks home. Don’t let the fear of losing valuable skills or being labeled “lazy” push you back into the 9-to-5 grind.
  • Best for baby. Past studies have suggested that going back to work harms a baby’s cognitive and social development—but those claims were recently debunked by a 2010 study from Columbia University. Professor Jane Waldfogel, who co-authored the study, explains, “Things change the minute [a mom] goes out to work, including the quality of childcare, the mother’s mental health, the relationships within the family and the household income. We’ve examined all those things…and we can see no adverse effects." Instead, invest in toys that promote motor skill and cognitive development, such as colorful shape sorters.
  • Adult interaction. You’re cooing and babbling now—and probably worried about losing vocabulary you’re not using with your baby. Returning to work means socializing with adults, and a break from using only monosyllabic words. You’ll probably feel a bit relieved for the break—and that’s okay. Keep any guilt at bay by reminding yourself that by taking care of your needs, you’ll be better equipped mentally and physically to take on your little one’s demands as well.
  • Pumping at HQ. You love breastfeeding your babe—but keeping your supply up inevitably means pumping on the clock. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act of 2010, nursing mothers of babies under one year old are allowed, by law, a “reasonable break time” and a private space to pump. Companies with 50 employees or more must designate a private, comfortable space for pumping breast milk. If you work for a smaller company, talk to management about scouting out possible pump spaces.
  • Stretching time. It’s no secret that new parents don’t sleep much. Between night feedings, diaper duty and work, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Avoid the stress by making a list of priorities and tasks to delegate out. If getting through the laundry’s more important than a clean kitchen, accept that the dirty dishes will sit—and ask your spouse to handle family dinner. Also, create a pre-determined feeding schedule to avoid any late-night arguing, which can wreak havoc on your much-needed sleep.
  • Check your emotions. Separation anxiety and guilt are the most common emotional pitfalls of going back to your job. Keep track of your ups and downs, and discuss them with your partner or a doctor. If you’re struggling with feeling sad at the office, set up strategies to counteract your emotions. Photos, video chats at lunch and a constant line of communication with your nanny can help ease these concerns. Invest in a video camera—watching a video of his first steps isn’t ideal, but it’s better than missing your toddler walk completely.
  • The nanny. Hiring a childcare provider may stir up a lot of emotions—worry about her competency, or jealousy that your precious baby may eventually prefer a total stranger to you. These are valid feelings that you’ll need to address before making your decision. Calm your fears by researching local nannies and day care facilities. Write down questions to ask prior to your visits, to get an idea of how each person and center operates.

There’s no “best” way to decide whether or not to work after having a baby. Returning to the office after a baby’s a big decision for parents, but it’s not set in stone. Research and planning ahead will help you transition into life after baby—whether you’re in the office or at home.

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