Returning to work after children

The transition back to work after the birth of a child can mean changes in routine, priorities and roles. For parents and caregivers who are planning to rejoin the workforce (particularly full-time), the first few weeks can at times be stressful, but with appropriate planning, hopefully the transition will be a smooth one.

Ease your way back

  • If possible, try to be flexible in your first week on the job. Regardless of how well organised you feel, the reality of settling into any new routine usually takes time and practise.
  • Flexible working hours for the first week will help to relieve pressure should any teething problems arise at child care or on the homefront.
  • If possible, arrange with your employer for a briefing before you physically commence work, so that you have the chance to catch up on any staff and/or procedural changes.
  • Ask your employer about personal leave for times when you may be required to care for a sick child.

Eating and Exercise

  • Ensure that your diet is high in fresh foods and low in pre-packaged and processed foods (even though these come in handy at times). Include high energy foods such as potatoes, pasta and bread.
  • Bring lunch from home to ensure you eat well and save money.
  • Keep a supply of snacks (yoghurt, nuts, fresh fruit) in the top desk drawer or refrigerator at your workplace.
  • Take a brisk walk during your lunch break and if ever the opportunity arises, snatch a power nap.
  • Use the stairs wherever possible.
  • Drink plenty of water, especially if breastfeeding.

Sharing with your partner

  • If you and your partner are both working, decide in advance how you intend to share the load.
  • If finances permit, outsource chores such as housework, garden maintenance, ironing etc.
  • Take it in turns to do ‘night shift’ if baby is restless and also take turns for sleep-ins and rest periods at weekends.
  • Try to factor in some down time and together time at the end of a working day.
  • You may need to re-think an active social life to help counteract tiredness and exhaustion.

Daycare routines

  • Pack your child’s bag and prepare as much as you can the night before. Rushing through the morning routine is a recipe for stress.
  • Allow extra time for the unexpected.
  • Time the trip to daycare so that your expectations of peak hour traffic are realistic.
  • Leave a complete set of clothes and other toys and accessories at day care, just in case something is forgotten.
  • Where possible, ease your child into day care with short visits. Stay for the initial visits and then leave and return, so that your child is reassured by a sense of routine and predictability.
  • Introduce goodbye rituals (kissing child, kissing soft toy) and hello rituals (hugging child, hugging soft toy) that confirm you have returned.
  • Even though children are flexible and adapt to new situations fairly readily, initially give your child extra time to adjust if needed.
  • Separation anxiety can occur weeks after your child seems to have settled into day care. Leaving a crying child can be distressing, but in the majority of cases crying ceases fairly quickly once the parent has left. Day care staff are trained to handle separation anxiety, so simply tell your child you are going but will be back and try to refrain from lengthy goodbyes or attempts to pacify or sneak out a side door.
  • If possible, make arrangements for an emergency babysitter for the occasions when your child may be ill and for whatever reason you’re unable to take time off work.

Choosing a caregiver

  • If choosing to leave your child with a caregiver (as opposed to a day care centre), allow yourself plenty of time to find the right person. A good starting point may be to consult your local council about day care services in your municipality.
  • Qualities of an appropriate caregiver include the ability to be caring, responsive, nurturing and attuned to your baby’s needs.
  • Look for someone who will encourage your child’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth.
  • Spend time watching a prospective caregiver interacting with your child before you make the final decision. Tone, terminology and body language can be important indicators of levels of tolerance and empathy.
  • Even though a caregiver may be registered through your local municipality or other organisation, ask about their early childhood training and how much experience they’ve had.
  • If your child has special needs, ensure the caregiver (and the environment) can accommodate these both physically and emotionally.
  • If other children are being minded at the same time as your child, ask about ages and temperaments and whether children have individual sleep schedules.
  • Consider an environment that is safe, clean, well-organised and accessible to you at any time during the working day. Look for any potential safety hazards and ask about the frequency of safety checks.
  • Enquire about basic first aid provision, how often toys are disinfected and check for separate areas for food preparation, nappy changing, play and sleeping.
  • If your child is used to a quiet house, the use of television, radio and any other sources of excessive noise, particularly power tools, appliances and traffic, may pose a problem as regards sleeping. Check for comfortable temperature, appropriate lighting and outside play area.
  • Choose a caregiver who will respect your requests, values and culture and who is willing to support your preferences as regards discipline, toilet training, manners and nutrition.

Grandparents

  • Increasingly, many grandparents are providing part or full-time day care for their grandchildren. For parents, it means a trusted babysitter, for grandparents a chance to bond closely with their grandchild, and for the child, the care and nurture of extended family.
  • However, choosing grandparents as carers can be a source of tension, anxiety and differences of opinion when it comes to raising a child.

Honesty, tolerance and ground rules:

  • Be honest and open with grandparents about your expectations and the needs of your child.
  • Establish ‘ground rules’, in particular issues such as nutrition and foods, toilet training, discipline, respect, manners, etc.
  • Be tolerant of taking advice from grandparents, especially if they are the ones looking after the child on a daily basis.
  • If behaviour problems do arise, agree on strategies for discipline, so that the child is receiving consistent messages.

Safety – inside and outside the home:

  • Ensure that if grandparents wish to take children out in the car, the vehicle is fitted with restraints that meet safety standards.
  • Be prepared to spend money on toddler proofing the grandparent’s house, and unless this has already been done, offer to pay for safety gates for stairs, high chairs, cots or anything else required to keep your child safe.

Health and nutrition:

  • Offer to provide money for special foods or other needs.
  • Respect grandparents’ availability for childcare and where possible, try to keep babysitting hours as agreed.
  • Be mindful of grandparents’ limitations. Many older grandparents tire easily and although keen to babysit, may find it taxing on a full-time basis.
  • If you perceive that grandparents are interfering, or that babysitting is becoming a chore for them, you may need to re-think day care options.
  • Keep nurturing in perspective. Your child has the opportunity to form a close bond with grandparents, so try not to resent the relationship.
  • Ensure your child’s immunisation status is current and explore the subject of adult immunisations with grandparents, particularly flu and tetanus shots. Also ensure that grandparents are familiarised with any medication prescribed for your child.

In an emergency:

  • Make sure emergency contact details are up to date and that if an emergency arises, grandparents are authorised to act immediately and independently if you can’t be there in time.

Continuing to Breastfeed

Depending on your workplace options, you may wish to:

  • choose a child minding centre close to your workplace
  • formula feed during the day and breastfeed morning and evening
  • express and store milk in the freezer
  • introduce your baby to breastmilk from a bottle
  • find a suitably private area at work to express milk and store it
  • if your baby is with a caregiver, that person may be able to bring the baby to your workplace or you can express milk and leave it with the caregiver.

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