Most working mothers look forward to the break that maternity leave promises. But what really happens during those hazy weeks after having a baby?
The postpartum period is not the all-expenses paid vacation that some women fantasize about. It’s fraught with challenges and celebrations, sweet snuggles and exhaustion. Just when you’re getting into the groove, it’s time to go back to work and deal with comments from your co-workers that go along the lines of, “How was your holiday?”
If your dream vacation involves walking around like a zombie in a mom bun and a body that doesn’t feel like yours with days that blur into one long stretch of diapers, feedings and bouncing a fussy baby, then you might as well have had a piña colada in your hand the whole time.
But that’s not what really happens after you have a baby, as evidenced by these five working moms who explain what postpartum leave is really like.
“Suddenly, I was 100% mom.” – Michelle, Pharmacist/Clinical Trials Auditor
Length of Leave: 3 Months
Before she had a baby, Michelle was a jet-setter. She audited clinical trials in Brazil and loved to travel. “I barely stayed at home, and I was very active,” she said. She was a runner who thrived on going out and about. Staying home was not her favorite thing to do.
Then, she was thrown into motherhood. “Suddenly, I was 100 percent mom,” she said. “I struggled for the first few weeks after giving birth. I wanted to go out right away, but I couldn’t because I was breastfeeding.”
Michelle had a great deal of support. Her parents came to help her for the first few weeks. Her husband consistently reminded her that she had to be patient. She found solace in virtual moms’ groups. But she was surprised at how limited she felt in her new lifestyle. Part of the challenge was that she had to let her body recover after having a C-section. She would forget that couldn’t lift anything heavier than her baby for the first six weeks, and her husband would have to encourage her to take it easy. She wasn’t prepared for the insecurities that developed.
Like most moms, Michelle didn’t fit into her regular clothes immediately after giving birth. But after nine months of wearing maternity gear, she was ready to stop wearing elastic waistbands.
One nursing bra that she found toward the end of her pregnancy helped improve her self-image and make breastfeeding a little easier, but it was hard to find high-quality items. When she found Uplifties, she said that she liked the “wonderful material” and “shiny lining.”
“They’re comfortable for daily use, and the texture absorbs sweat,” she said.
Finding supportive clothing that made her feel like her old self—whether at home or the gym—helped ease the transition. After the first few weeks of leave, Michelle found herself getting back into her old routine and discovering new ways to stay inspired in motherhood. She started hitting the gym again, and now she says that she has time to read parenting books and cook healthy meals. She even gets creative, making toys for her little one.
Becoming a mother can throw you for a loop, but giving yourself permission to rest and heal gives you a chance to evolve into this beautiful new phase of being. Michelle is looking forward to being able to work from home when she returns to her job. She will also welcome the ability to travel again, although she’ll miss her baby when she’s away from home.
“Getting back to normal activities was slower than I expected.” – Katy, Primary Care Physician
Length of Leave: 9 Weeks
Katy was already going through a big transition when she had her baby. She had just established a new practice and was busy working full time and trying to build her client base.
Even before she had her baby, Katy noticed the way that her routine was affected by the changes in her body. “During my pregnancy, I felt a lot of fatigue and shortness of breath. I needed a lot of sleep. All of it made it difficult to practice at my job.”
Nursing didn’t come easily, and Katy had to work with her newborn to establish a good latch, managing painful nipple blisters and learning how to use her pump.
When you’re used to feeling like superwoman, the changes to your body and routine can really throw you for a loop. Recovering from labor and delivery was surprisingly demanding. Katy felt uncomfortable for weeks after delivering her baby, and she had to force herself to rest.
Luckily, she had the support of her pediatrician, lactation consultants and good friends from medical school. A few decent nursing bras helped streamline the breastfeeding and pumping process. When she tried using Uplifties, Sara was impressed with the soft material and the one-handed snap.
If only everything about motherhood were that simple and intuitive. As she’s transitioning into life with a family, a career and an infant, she’s realizing that she can do it all. She has just had to adapt to a different pace, allowing for more self-care and being gentler to herself.
“I get to relax, and I stay busy at work.” – Jessica, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Length of Leave: 3 Months
Even before having her baby, Jessica experienced significant changes to her lifestyle. She was tired and nauseated throughout the first trimester, making it difficult for her to work and maintain her usual activities. She was taken aback by the new restrictions on her eating, drinking and activities. All of a sudden, she had to pay more attention to the way that she was treating her body.
But she was pleasantly surprised by the way that her tastes changed. She tried new foods, and she found that she enjoyed some new flavors that she hadn’t let herself savor before her pregnancy.
She also found that pregnancy was a good excuse to relax. She had to make time for rest or she wouldn’t be able to make it through her days. Staying busy at work was pleasantly distracting as her due date loomed closer, though.
The thing that surprised her most about her pregnancy was the way that her body changed. “You are growing, but it’s hard to judge how much,” she said. Getting maternity clothing that could serve double duty as nursing wear after the baby was born was important to her. When she couldn’t fit into her old bras 20 weeks into the pregnancy, she chose to invest in nursing bras that she could continue to use after the baby was born.
One of the most important things that she has noticed is that the shift into motherhood happens gradually. Everything that she learned during pregnancy prepared her for the newborn period, and the challenges that she experienced during that time set her up for the multitasking that every parent must get used to.
“The second pregnancy was definitely more relaxed.” – Cassidy, Part-Time Transcriber
Cassidy was a full-time teacher before her first child was born. Now, she works from home about 10 hours per week so that she can take care of her 2-year-old daughter and 6-week-old baby boy.
She was much more relaxed the second time around. After having her first child, Cassidy realized that she didn’t want to continue to work full time. She wanted to be with her children more often, and she aspired to feel less run down than she had with her first pregnancy.
“Like every new mom, I didn’t realize how long breastfeeding actually takes and how much a baby eats.”
She was more prepared after giving birth to her son. She knew what to expect, and she was working less. Because she had more time to recuperate, she found the shift to be easier after having her second child.
Since it was her second time around, Cassidy was also equipped with the products that she needed to make the transition easier. Prepping for her second child included buying nursing bras in larger sizes so that they would fit even when she was engorged. Comfort was also a priority. She made sure to buy bras with softer materials and no underwire this time.
She also adjusted to her child’s feeding schedule better. Understanding the changes that a newborn brings goes a long way in preparing you for motherhood. Because Cassidy already knew that a young infant needs to be fed frequently, she didn’t plan to be away from her son for more than two hours in the first six months.
As her milk supply adapts and her baby’s feeding frequency diminishes, she knows that she will be able to ease back into her regular routine. It’s all about managing expectations. When you know what’s ahead of you, you can set yourself up for success.
“I loved being pregnant.” – Rachael, Pediatric Nurse
Length of Leave: 6 Weeks
Rachaels’s pregnancy was easy. She had energy and didn’t experience much nausea or physical distress.
She felt prepared for the way that her body would change. Her sister gave her maternity items. She also explained what might happen to Rachael’s body during and after pregnancy. Therefore, Rachael wasn’t completely shocked when her cup size went from an A to a C immediately after becoming pregnant and engorgement made her breasts even bigger.
Rachael embraced pregnancy, showing off her bump with fitted clothing and finding beauty in her fuller figure. She was less enthused with the fluffiness that was left around her abdomen after delivering her newborn. Like many moms, she found it difficult to find clothing that fit well and boosted her confidence.
Plus, she couldn’t move around efficiently in the few weeks after having her child. She felt as though things didn’t start going smoothly until her baby was 2 months old. At that point, Patty started running again, a hobby that kept her feeling physically and mentally fit before she became a mother.
Finding a new normal was important for Rachael. She was nervous that the stress and anxiety that initially accompanied breastfeeding would last forever. It didn’t. She is finding beauty in her new figure, which has changed since having a baby.
“I am so much more appreciative of everything that my body can handle than I was before having a baby,” she said.
Staying comfortable has been important to her since the third trimester. Her first reaction to Uplifties nursing bras was, “OMG this is so soft!” She has found a balance between dressing professionally for work and maintaining a functional wardrobe that allows her to reach her breastfeeding goal of one year.
Rachael has maintained a similar attitude when it comes to being a working mom. She realized that some changes had to be made, and she set herself up with a more flexible schedule so that she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed.
Tips That Will Help You Stay Sane on Maternity Leave
Gather Your Thoughts In a Journal
Having a baby will completely change your routine. It can be difficult to transition from your work routine to being a full-time mom. Lucky your baby will give you little time to think about that transition. Some women can feel guilty about leaving work. Whether its a client that was counting on you or a big project you left, writing down your thoughts can help ease the anxiety that comes with this transition. Ask yourself questions like, what do I feel like I’m missing out on? Why am I passionate about work? What do I miss about work? Putting your thoughts on paper will help your process your feelings better.
Set Small Goals
As you are caring for your newborn, it may seem like you barely have time for yourself. It’s important to set small goals throughout the day, even if it’s just taking a shower. Before you had your baby you were constantly working towards your goals. Setting small goals like this will help you feel a sense of accomplishment.
Reflect On Your Time
Finally giving birth to your child will result in a change of priorities. Caring for your newborn is now your main focus. Use your maternity leave to mentally prepare yourself to integrate work into your new life. Write down your thoughts and discuss with friends and other moms to see how they dealt with the transition. Think about the new challenges you will have merging your new life with your work life.
Maternity Leave: Time Crunch or Identity Crisis?
Becoming a mother changes your lifestyle, but it also alters the way that you view yourself. On one hand, you have to slow down or your body won’t have time to heal. On the other hand, you’re saddled with more responsibilities than ever before, and you barely have time to shower.
Your priorities after you have a baby. Support becomes more important than ever, and you realize that you have to give yourself permission to take time to yourself amid the whirlwind that happens when you raise a child.
It’s in the eye of the storm that we find the balance to sustain ourselves as parents. Managing our time becomes an obstacle, but managing our perception of ourselves is often a bigger battle.
As more women share their honest thoughts about what they experienced during maternity leave, perhaps we can normalize the tussle that happens within our emotions and identity and feel supported in knowing that the struggle is real.