How to make a good return-to-work plan when you have a newborn

Many mothers get carried away and forget to balance between baby-time and their back-to-work preparation

What you need to know:

Expectant mothers should start preparing for their baby’s arrival and return-to-work formula way in advance.

In three weeks, Sheila Luyali will be returning to work from maternity leave.

During the time she has been away from the office, Sheila has been inseparable from her newborn.

“I had waited for so long to have my baby. I was afraid that I’d lose the pregnancy because I had complications in the second trimester. But by God’s grace I carried [the baby] to term and delivered a bouncing baby girl,” she says. 

But as her maternity leave inches closer to an end, the 36-year-old accountant admits that she is not ready to leave her baby behind; not even with her young sister who lives with her and is a university student.

“I am anxious about leaving the baby behind. Yet I cannot quit my job because I am the sole bread winner,” she says.

She has sent word to her friends to get her good nanny who can look after her baby while she’s at work.

“I have received several referrals but none of them has experience with a newborn. It is very frustrating,” she says. Her return-to-work schedule has been distorted.

According to Gloria Wandeto, a child therapist, Sheila is in a predicament that many new mothers find themselves in.

“While it is normal for a mother to feel attached to her baby, many mothers get carried away and forget to balance between baby-time and their back-to-work preparation,” says Gloria.

Take Augustine Mwise for example: she was anxious throughout her first day at work after she returned from maternity leave.

“I was on the phone every 10 minutes trying to find out how the baby was: if she had woken up, pooped or taken the expressed milk. It was the first time I was leaving her [with the nanny],” she says.

Before she returned to work, Augustine had not been well acquainted with the nanny; and by the time she rushed home at noon that day, things had gone wrong.

“I had told her to feed her milk once she woke up, and though she did so, she fed him dairy milk rather than the expressed milk I had expressed and stored.”

Apparently, Augustine’s nanny was from the village and had never seen a child fed on milk expressed from the breast.

Expressing, thawing, storage

Expressing milk is one of the most critical steps to an efficient back-to-work plan, given that your baby should be breastfed exclusively for six months.

When expressing milk, Gloria says you may opt to use a breast pump to stimulate production of your breast milk, boost the supply, collect milk and relieve the pain and pressure of engorged breasts.  

However, there are instances when you may opt to express by hand. This is what Petronilla Nafula did.

“I expressed milk by hand. My nipples were sore and cracked and expressing by hand helped soothe the engorgement and the plugged ducts,” she says.

Always remember to massage your breasts or place a warm towel on them before expressing the milk by hand.

Gloria cautions that you should be very keen on storage. “Always store the milk in the amounts that you normally use at a feeding.”

For example, if your baby normally takes three ounces, store the milk in portions of three ounces and remember to indicate the dates on the bottles for your house-help or partner’s sake.

Your house help should know how to thaw frozen breast milk and store it. “Teach them to never defrost or warm in a microwave to prevent killing [the] nutrients. Rather, let them hold the bottle under warm water until it attains [suitable] temperature,” says Gloria.

The thawed milk can stay in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours but if it’s at room temperature, it should be used within an hour.

Under room temperature, you should not store the milk for more than six hours. However, if you have a freezer compartment, your milk can be stored for two weeks.

With a freezer compartment that has separate doors and storage of zero degrees, you can store the milk for three to six months. For an upright deep freezer with -4 degrees, milk cab be stored for six to 12 months.  

Preparing in advance

Expectant mothers should start preparing for their baby’s arrival and return-to-work formula way in advance. This is what Grace Mbaruki did.

“I took some ‘birth classes’ and learned about the available options for labour, how to cope with labour, birth and return-to-work,” she says.

Grace sought a pediatrician midway through her pregnancy. Two months to  her due date, she began looking for a suitable house-help.

“I wanted to give her time to adjust to our way of life. I also wanted her to be there when I prepared for my child’s arrival, seeing that she would be spending a lot of time with her.”

Grace says that friends and close neighbours who had recently given birth were good resources when she had been looking for a pediatrician and a house-help.

“I also made sure I talked to my partner about what help I’d need when the baby arrived, the expected changes to our relationship, and how he could be of help,” she adds.

For instance, when the baby arrives, teaching and allowing the child’s father to feed the baby with expressed milk will help him create a bond the child.

Working formula

After returning to work, negotiate a flexible working formula with your boss in order to have some time to rush home and check on your baby.

“Evaluate the possibility of when you can report and leave the office without affecting your work and your baby,” says Gloria.

For Hellen Apiyo, a 31-year-old insurer, reporting to work later than usual is what works best for her.

“I got two extra hours in the morning which allow me to ensure that by the time I leave home, the baby has already woken up, fed, bathed and gone back to sleep.”

Catherine Wambui on the other hand works half-a-day. She says she has changed her baby’s routine to fit in with her work arrangement.

“I am at the office by 7.30 in the morning. Previously, the baby would wake up from 9, but now he is accustomed to waking up at 6.30.”

According to Gloria, you would do well to start leaving the baby alone with the house-help long before you resume work.

“This will help [the baby] to familiarise himself with the nanny as well as learn to cope when you’re not around,” she says, adding that if you have older children, you will need to be keen to avoid neglecting them.

When to call your paediatrician

According to Gloria, some of the warning signs are as follows:

  • Your baby has developed fever, is breathing irregularly and much faster, or the body temperature has dropped.

  • Your baby looks sluggish and is crying excessively.

  • Your baby has developed dark or bluish spots on their lips or face.

  • Your baby is dehydrated and you have to use less than three or four diapers within 24 hours.

  • Your baby’s jaundice fails to resolve by the fifth day of birth.

  • Your baby’s belly button looks infected.

How to express by hand

  • Wash and clean your hands thoroughly before you start.

  • Use a warm towel to massage your breasts before you start expressing.

  • Position yourself well by sitting up and leaning forward.

  • Have a wide container to collect the milk.

  • Place your thumb and index finger on each side of the breast slightly behind the areola, forming a ‘C’ shape with your hand. Note that you will only need to compress the area under the areola and not the nipple.

  • Do not pull or yank. Use a rolling motion, rotating your fingers around the areola, from top to bottom and moving to the sides.