Going Back To Work? Have a Newborn at Home? Read This First.

I have a friend who worked as a programmer for a big name company in Manhattan.

Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with the industry, being an entry level programmer is kind of like being an entry level lawyer – you can expect 12 hour work days every day when you’re just starting out. And those might not be “billable” hours (that means you don’t get paid overtime.)

She lived in Queens, so she was traveling back and forth every day about an hour each way in addition to her 12 hour days.

And then she had a baby.

And her company, like many large non-Jewish companies out there these days, gave her a nice hefty length of time for her maternity leave: 4 months.

And they paid her.

(Of course, she says she already WORKED those four months in her overtime. Which may very well be true.)

At the end of those 4 months, they allowed her to scale back her hours and work partially from home.

Which I find kind of ironic.

How come in the outside world they’re coming to respect parenting more and more; they are giving lengthy paid maternity leave (and paternity, too!) – which, in some countries starts before the due date (regardless of whether or not the baby’s born!) – while in our circles it’s still par for course to go back after 6 weeks?

I’ve had many clients who were planning to go back after 6 weeks… only to find that, as they neared that mark, they were nowhere near ready. So they pushed it off.

Sometimes up to double what they originally intended.

So what’s the deal on going back to work after your baby is born?

Ideally…

Before we dive in – I do want to say: in an ideal world, you would not be going back to work when you have little kids at home. Call me whatever you want to – that’s just not the way Hashem started the post-חטא world off. “בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם” is the man’s job, and צער גידול בנים is ours.

Western society has tried for so long to make women into man-look-alikes that it’s infiltrated into our circles too; we think we should just be up and raring to go days after our babies our born.

I could write a whole blog post about this (and I will, sometime soon – I’ll link it once I have it), but let’s focus on the topic at hand: You ARE going back to work.

So when’s the best time to?

And how can you prepare for success?

Why even wait?

Anyone who’s actually had a baby (i.e. most people reading this… this website is for mothers, after all!) is probably laughing. Why even wait before going back to work? Well don’t know about all of you – but I could hardly MOVE the first couple days after my babies were born!

Regardless of the technicalities of your birth, by the time your baby enters the world, your body has been through a lot. Over the last nine months, your organs have shifted out of place, your hormones have been all over, your immune response lowered, your abdomen stretched to accommodate a growing baby. At the end of it, your body went through either a vaginal delivery or a cesarian section to get that baby out.

A simcha? Absolutely.

Traumatic for your body? Definitely.

So no, you’re not an invalid in the post-partum stage, but your body has a lot of “getting back to” to do. Everything’s got to move back to where it belongs, your body has to regain its new hormonal balance. Every single cell has been affected by pregnancy and delivery, and your body needs to recover.

Six Weeks?

Six weeks isn’t an arbitrary number; most traditional societies around the world who still have “kimpeturin” (that “postpartum” for non-Yiddish speakers) rituals, consider new moms to be in their immediate postpartum state for about 40 days – roughly six weeks.

Those in the world of postpartum care will know that 6 weeks tends to be when most women have mostly healed. The uterus is back to it’s normal size, bleeding should have stopped, organs are back where they belong and most c-sections are sufficiently healed for women to start living normal life.

Most mothers find their milk supply and nursing woes to have stabilized; baby’s getting into a rhythm.

But six weeks is just about the bare minimum.

And – remember – it’s about recovery. So those six weeks should be spent resting and being taken care of — not trying to do laundry, make dinner and run after your kids.

New Baby, New Routines

On top of your physical recovery, throwing a new baby into the predictable mix of how your household used to run turns even a smoothly-run household into a disaster zone.

If you already have other kids, they’re going to be adjusting, too – and that’s going to mean they want to see you MORE than they were before. (Even though, of course, you have less time.)

Your steady systems are going to be thrown out of whack as you now are juggling a new baby on top of everything else (and as someone who has a full family of 12 ka”h recently told me – every baby always changes the family dynamics.)

How long should you wait before going back to work?

How long should you? I can’t answer that for you.

I would love to see every mother get at least 4 months of paid vacation like my friend did.

But I know that’s not always the reality. If you’re a teacher, you might not be able to leave your class for that long. Or maybe you’re in kollel and don’t have paid maternity leave and need to get back so you have money to pay the bills. Or maybe you love your work and are excited to go back.

So the first thing I want you to know is: it’s okay if you go back at 6 weeks.

And the second thing is: it’s okay if you feel you need to take longer. You’re not wimpy, you’re normal.

If it’s an option, try to go back slowly – some of my clients start with 1-2 hours a day or just a couple days a week.

To answer the “how long” question, you need to tune into your body.

How are you feeling now?

How tired are you? How overwhelmed are you? What will be the best thing for your family right now?

If you feel like you need to push your return off, talk it out with your husband; talk it out with your boss – if you’re not read yet, it’s in everyone’s best interest if you hold out a little.

Set yourself up for success

As counterintuitive as it may sound, the best way to set yourself up for success is NOT to run around like a madwoman the weeks before to prepare things.

The best way is to take advantage of your maternity leave and (hopefully!) the meals and household help you’re getting and REST. Listen to your body’s cues and give it what it needs: if you’re tired, sleep when your baby is sleeping (and forget about that laundry!) as absolutely much as you can, if you find yourself hungry, be sure to eat a nutritious meal at least 3 times a day (if you’re nursing, you might need more than that!), and drink when you’re thirsty – at least 8 cups of water a day.

And be prepared to continue doing that even after you go back to work.

Being out the whole day (or even half day!) can be draining and tiring (especially if your baby is still waking at night — which, likely, he or she still is!).

If you need a permission slip to let your housework slide so you can take care of yourself, your baby and your family, email me — I’ll make one for you.

No, but really; the way to have a successful back-to-work transition is to make sure you’re continuing to take care of yourself.

Your Baby

But you’re not the only one who’s gotta deal with going back to work – your baby does too. Whether she’ll be out at a babysitter, at home with one, or with a family member, this is going to be a brand new experience for your baby.

So what should you do about your baby’s sleep and nursing?

Check back the next two weeks for more info on those…

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Comments (2)
  1. Chaya

    Great post! This is so important for everyone to hear. With my most recent baby I really couldn’t afford to take any extra time past the 6 weeks, but as it grew closer I realized I really couldn’t afford not to either. I hadn’t completely healed at that point, and I was still in pain. My baby was still doing a 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM just-cry-because-I-am-a-baby-and-nothing-will-make-me calm down thing (which, incidentally, she stopped the night before I DID go back to work at 7 weeks). I needed to rest. So, I took an extra week. We felt it financially, but it was for sure the right decision.

    • Hi Chaya,

      It’s really hard to take that leap – but good for you for knowing what you needed! Hope you continue to have nachas from her!

      Chaya Shifra