Wow, how did that time go by so fast? It only seems like yesterday I turned off my computer for the last time, said my goodbyes, and with a spring in my step (if that’s even possible when you’re 8 ½ months pregnant), I left work to begin my maternity leave and start a new chapter in my life.
Fast forward 9 months….the newest addition to our house, baby Tara is very much a part of the family and it’s time to go back to work! I’ve spent the last 9 months rarely separated from my precious bundle of joy and now the time has come to hand that responsibility over to someone else for a few hours every working day. For me, who is a bit of a control freak when it comes to Tara- I mean I actually believe that I’m the only one who can feed her properly (not true!) and when it comes to her sleep, well it’s fair to say that’s a military-like regime!! She and I have worked really hard (and I mean really hard) to establish the good sleeping routine she now has and it stresses me out to think how she / I would cope if all our good work became undone. So is it too much to expect that Tara will maintain that level of consistency in her routine without any setbacks? Realistically that probably is a high expectation. And in saying that, I mean no reflection on the carer- of course whether any child goes to a crèche, childminder or is looked after by family members, there is no doubt they will be loved and nurtured with full emphasis on keeping to the baby’s current regime but ultimately a big change is happening and your baby will take time to adapt to that.
So, as it is necessity for most of us to go back to our paid work it makes sense to embrace that plan and focus on the positives but also to be prepared so that the transition isn’t too stressful for baby or mum.
Here’s my top 5 tips for encouraging a stress-free return to work from maternity leave:
Plan ahead, so that the mornings and evenings run as smoothly as possible. Simple things like setting clothes out the night before, prepping meals in advance (one pot dinners or using the slow cooker can be great options), using online shopping for the groceries, encouraging older children to be as independent as they can with getting dressed, breakfast etc.
Give your all to your work life and your all to your family life
When in work, maintain focus, and set your tasks for the day / week ahead. Embrace and enjoy the challenges your work presents. Then when you leave work, give 100% to your family time. Enjoy catching up with everyone on how their day went. Try to limit the time everyone spends on phones / gadgets to
maximise the quality time you spend together. Plan mini adventures together when possible – it doesn’t have to be a big expensive day trip. Nothing beats a ham sandwich picnic at a nearby nature reserve or loading the kids bikes into the car and heading for the local park.
Be prepared to be flexible with your baby’s sleep regime
If your baby has established a good sleeping regime, this might well get tested! To minimise disruption to your current plan, it is advisable to arrange a settling in session with your childcare that includes looking at their sleeping environment. You can discuss your ideal routine (especially if that’s working well for you at home at the minute) but expect that it will take time for your baby to get used to a new sleep space where all the stimuli (smells, noise, etc) will be very different to what they are used to. Your little one may need a few early nights to bed when the daytime sleeps haven’t gone as well as you’d like. If need be a baby can go to bed up to an hour earlier than their usual bedtime without it affecting their overnight routine. This can help prevent them being overtired going to bed. When a baby/child gets overtired at bedtime cortisol is released into their body. Cortisol is like a shot of adrenaline and typically a child with cortisol on board presents with a “second wind” and can appear full of life. In reality they are already way past being ready for bed and will find it harder to unwind and settle to sleep.
Some invaluable advice which gives me great peace of mind is to consider your baby’s sleep needs over a week rather than over a day. So if they have a couple of days in childcare where they don’t get the required daytime naps, try not to stress too much – you can always prioritise this on your days off with your baby and try to facilitate these as more restful days with better naps.
On the other hand, your baby’s sleep routine may be an ongoing challenge in your house with difficulty settling to sleep, frequent night wakings, and / or early morning waking. These are common symptoms of over-tiredness which is often seen in babies/children. If nights are currently very disrupted with your baby, you may be worried about maintaining focus and concentration in your working day. Desperation may be kicking in and whilst you want to make a change to your child’s sleep challenges you just don’t know where or how to start. I personally have been in that place and am only too aware of how frustrating and difficult it is to cope with sleep deprivation. Overcoming these challenges with my own child’s sleep helped me discover a passion to learn more and help others. Now, as a certified sleep consultant, I can offer you a gentle and non-judgmental family-centred approach to getting you a tailored solution. There is nothing more satisfying to any parent than helping their child learn the skill of self-settling to sleep and setting them up for a night of uninterrupted sleep. A win win situation for everyone in the house!
When you return to work, life becomes busier overnight. You still have all your household responsibilities but you also have to meet the demands of returning to your job AND get an extra little person out in the morning. So it is important to look after yourself. Aim to go to bed at a reasonable time. It is not just children who should avoid screens an hour before bedtime – the blue light they emit can negatively affect the production of melatonin which is the sleepy hormone.
Try to build some “me” time into your week- which should include some level of exercise not least because the endorphins released will help us feel better. Don’t forget to schedule in a date night – that might be a movie and takeaway with your partner at home, or a trip to the cinema or coffee shop with friends.
Don’t be afraid to gratefully accept offers of help e.g. from family members with meal preparation, light housework. And that also applies to help from dad to share the morning and evening tasks, or if any of the children wake during the night. And some families will want to budget into monthly outgoings for paid help with the ironing, housework.
To help ensure you look after yourself, as well as your little ones, here is a printable Quick-Guide for you.