Contributed by Lori Mihalich-Levin of Mindful Return
Whether you’ve been home on maternity leave for a few weeks or a few months, transitioning your baby to a new caregiver—babysitter, nanny or daycare—can be daunting and fraught with lots of emotions. Will the caregiver recognize my baby’s cries? If I’m leaving my child for 2 hours, is it worth pumping? Will my baby take the bottle from a stranger? While the swell of questions and emotions is inevitable, I’d like to share a few tips to help the caregiver transition go more smoothly.
Tips to help your transition to a caregiver
- Use a transition week schedule to ease both of you into the experience. No matter what type of childcare arrangement you will be using, ask for an official “transition week” where the amount of time in childcare increases as the week goes on. For instance: Monday, 9-11, Tuesday, 9-12:30, Wednesday, 9-1, Thursday, 9-3:30, Friday, 9-5. And if you’re able to do the transition week the week before you start work, all the better. This will provide you with much-needed “me time” to shop for some non-maternity work clothes, take a yoga class, have lunch with a friend, or get a haircut.
- Don’t linger. Last big hug and kiss goodbye, and then go. It’s important not to linger at drop-off, even the first day and the first week. It’s better for the child not to have a really extended goodbye, and not to set up an expectation that there will be one, even from the beginning.
- Know that your baby’s sleep “schedule,” including nighttime sleep, will probably be off for awhile. Expect that whatever you previously had gotten used to is likely to change in the sleep department when childcare starts. The baby might get up more at night to cuddle, and it may take a few weeks to get naps figured out. Just remember how quickly everything changes with little ones. At three months they still may take four naps a day, but by about the one-year mark, they’re down to only one.
- Plan for extra cuddle time. Chances are, you’ll both be extremely happy to see one another at the end of each day apart – whether it was for a few hours or the whole day. So at least for a week, forget the laundry, order in some food, and spend some serious time together after work in your favorite snuggle spot.
- Remind yourself that “alloparents” have been critical to child rearing for pretty much all of human history. In Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One Has the Time, Brigid interviews Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an evolutionary anthropologist about the Kung women, who inhabited Africa’s Kalahari Desert around 2,000 years ago. The Kung mothers often had to leave their children back at camp while they sought food. Older siblings, grandparents, relatives, and other trusted, nurturing adults—people Hrdy calls “alloparents” (“allo” means “other than” in Greek) helped care for the children. “It’s natural for mothers to work. It’s natural for mothers to take care of their children,” she says. “What’s unnatural is for mothers to be the sole caretaker of children. What’s unnatural is not to have more support for mothers.”
- Pause at transition time and take care of yourself. Take the time – whether it’s one-minute or five – to be mindful of the transitions in your day, from baby to work, and work to baby. Pause and take a minute to breathe in the workday, and breathe out your work to-do list. Then breathe in the thought of the baby who awaits you, and breathe out your feelings about having been gone. Take note of how you’re feeling and just feel. Take care of yourself during your first weeks back – and every week thereafter. Find other moms who’ve been there, done that, and talk to them about their experiences.
Remember to breathe. With these handy tips, the transition will sort itself out and you—and your baby will come to enjoy your daily reunions.
About the author: Lori, mom to two little boys, founded the Mindful Return blog and e-course to help new moms navigate their transition back to work after maternity leave. To learn more about Mindful Return, click here.