1. Get a good breast pump
If you want to keep breastfeeding after you’ve gone back to work, it’s helpful to have a supply of frozen breast milk to hand, Amy Vogelaar, Dubai-based childbirth and breastfeeding educator and counsellor advises. “Start pumping and storing milk at least a month before your first day and offer a bottle of expressed milk to your baby every day from when he or she is a month old or as soon as possible so that they can get familiar with the bottle.”
Pumping can take practice, especially at first. “Letting down milk for a pump is different from letting it down for your baby, so start expressing when your little one is a month old or as soon as possible afterwards to get used to the feeling of it,” says Amy. “If you’re working all day, a double breast pump will save time and the motor will last longer than a single pump.”
Contact your HR manager prior to your return to let them know that you’ll want a private place to express – it’s not always easy in a formal office environment, but “taking a photo of your baby – or something that smells like him or her – with you should make it easier,” Amy adds.
Tip Women who massage their breasts, use a double breast pump, then hand-express right after could double the amount of milk they obtain.
Read more: 'Where to find breastfeeding support in the UAE'
2. Ditch the guilt and shame
For most mums, going back to work means discovering a new level of guilt and/or shame; you might feel bad about not making your baby’s food, or even for (secretly) loving being back at work.
Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of The LightHouse Arabia explains, “There’s a difference between guilt and shame. Feeling guilty is about a single action, like ‘I didn’t feed my kids a healthy dinner’, while feeling ashamed is more general, like ‘I’m a bad mum’. Shame is useless and is correlated with depression, aggression, addictions, eating disorders and other mental illnesses, while guilt can be helpful because it encourages behavioural change.”
If you’re feeling either, remember that “these emotions carry a low energy and your children can sense them without you saying a thing,” Dr Saliha says. “A few positive hours spent with your child is much more beneficial than staying at home and being miserable, or working and feeling guilty.”
Tip Ask yourself ‘did I do the best I could today, given my energy and time?’ and if the answer is yes, let yourself off the hook. “You don’t have to be a perfect mum, you have to be a good-enough mum,” Dr Saliha says.
3. Practise your new routine
If you’re a new mum, it might take a little while to get the hang of balancing your home and work lives, but you’ll get there more quickly
if you’re organised. “A few days before you go back, have a dry run by going through the morning routine, dropping the kids at school and driving to work at the time you would normally, to get an idea of the traffic so you can readjust if you need to,” suggests Mona Moussa, personal development trainer at LifeWorks in Dubai.
“You might want to allow for extra time by waking up 15 minutes earlier on the actual day so that you don’t have to rush.”
Mona adds that it’s also very useful for you and your child – if he or she is old enough – to get into the habit of getting ready the night before. “The two of you can lay clothes out – and you get your make-up ready – or pack the school bag, as well as your purse and laptop bag,” she says. “If you employ a nanny, you might want to sit down with her the night before to talk about the activities your kids will be doing the next day. Ask her to pack portions of fruit and vegetables in the fridge for the following afternoon or – if you have a baby – ask her to clean and sterilise the milk bottles.”
4. Get a handle on (your own) separation anxiety
You’re probably worried about how your baby is going to deal with you going back to work, but don’t be surprised if, on the big day, the outstretched arms and tears are yours.
Dr Thoraiya Kanafani, clinical psychologist and director of clinical services at the Human Relations Institute and Clinics, says that separation anxiety in working mums is common and “is characterised by the worry, sadness or guilt associated with being separated, with maternal separation often being associated with self-criticism and even depressive symptoms”.
If you’re having a tough day at the office, she says it’s important to remind yourself why you’re there, which is probably “to provide a better future for your family, not to mention be a great role model”. If your heart still breaks when you leave the house in the morning, there are a few things you can do to make yourself feel better.
“Plan ahead so you know who’ll be looking after your child, and then get to know that person,” Dr Thoraiya says. “Once you trust them and know your child is in good hands, you’ll feel better about leaving them behind. Another good idea is giving your child a memento that has meaning for the two of you. If your child is old enough, ask him or her to give you something, too. Explain what the token is for, and that the souvenir will provide comfort when you are away from each other.”
5. Keep it together in the office
Although you might feel like a mess when you’re at your desk – wondering whether your baby is all right, feeling physically and mentally exhausted, and panicking about how you’re going to get through all of the emails that have come in while you’ve been away – there are ways to ease the pressure. “If you’re having a horrible day, it’s always safe to say ‘I need a moment to clear my head’ without actually saying why,” Fatima Nakhjavanpur, career and leadership coach at Dubai-based HR consultancy Coaching Choice, says. “That’s a much better option than trying to work while you’re feeling distracted. Taking a five-minute break can change a person’s energy completely.”
Having said that, Fatima adds that you should remember that it’s OK to talk about bad days. “Although getting emotional may not be the best advice, remember that as a human being you are going to have rough days,” she says. “It’s all right to express the fact that you’re going through something, but you need to do it without drama. Have a chat with your manager about how you’re feeling. You might be surprised to find that sharing the load is a huge relief and it’ll make you feel good to know you have support at work.”
Fatima adds it’s important to value the experience of being a working mum. “You’re not a creature made solely to breastfeed,” she says. “You’re a professional woman who also has a baby, raises the future generation and works. Be proud of that.” Fatima says there are advantages to being a mum, too: “Motherhood can awaken a further sense of responsibility in a woman. Many women, when they become mums, find that they have a renewed sense of responsibility and commitment to their work.”
6. Don’t forget dad
They may not always make a big deal about it, but dads also have a tough time transitioning back into work mode after having a baby. “Becoming a parent is stressful for dads for different reasons,” Dr Valeria Risola, clinical psychologist at the Dubai Physiotherapy and Family Medicine Clinic says. “Firstly, they often don’t have enough paternity leave to fully enjoy the experience, not to mention that they have to deal with a massive change in their lives. Having a baby is a joy, but it means taking care of additional responsibilities from both a practical and financial point of view.”
While paternity leave is not provided for under UAE law, there are ways to help your husband feel better about leaving his family at home while he works.
“Try to encourage him to leave stress at the office so when he’s home he can properly enjoy his time with the baby,” Valeria suggests. “While some colleagues may not be understanding of his situation, alerting them to his new priorities can be useful, although he needs to make sure he keeps working at the same pace he did before becoming a dad.”
Valeria acknowledges that this can be difficult, keeping sleep deprivation and reduced free time in mind, but she says to remind him “that it won’t be forever”.
7. Hang in there
If resigning is all you can think about on your first morning back, take a deep breath. “Making the decision to go back to work – or even quit – shouldn’t be made in the spur of the moment,” Asma Bajawa, managing director of People First HR Consultancy says.
One way to make things easier on yourself is going back on a part-time schedule, even if it’s just for a few weeks, “But be prepared to explain to your manager what you plan on doing to make sure your work doesn’t suffer,” she adds. “And be realistic: if you leave early, will you need to log in at home later to make sure everything is done?”
Some colleagues may not take kindly to you leaving early or taking breaks to pump, but “as long as you and your manager have agreed on a plan, don’t worry,” Asma reassures. And when you do leave, do it with your head held high, safe in the knowledge that you’re probably more efficient now, as a working mum, than you were before.
What real working mums suggest…
“I drove myself crazy when I went back to work, constantly worrying and calling the nursery to check whether my baby had eaten her snacks/had her nap/gone through enough nappies. Then I realised that if I was going to make it work I had to focus on one thing at a time and trust my baby’s new caregivers. So when I’m at work I’m the best employee I can be, then when I’m at home I know I’m the best mum I’m capable of being.” – Charlotte Butterfield, mum to Amelie (seven), Rafe (five) and Theo (20 months)
“When you work all day, the time with your baby is limited and very precious. It’s up to us mums to make it count, so spend some quality time with your little ones in the morning before you head off as well as when you come back before they go to sleep. For me, that means trying not to be on the phone, email or attending to any work-related matters when I’m with my little ones.” – Nicole Anwer, mum to Andre (three) and Joël (seven months)
“For those mothers planning to send their little ones to day care, be sure to create a back-up plan for those times when your child might be sick and need to stay home. Also be aware that if your child catches something very infectious like chicken pox then, depending on your day care’s policies, they may need to be off for seven to 10 days at a time. I’ve found myself missing several days of work in order to be
with my son when he’s sick and it put tremendous pressure on me to fulfil my work obligations. Think ahead how you might manage this situation should it ever arise.” – Sandra Alexander, mum to Max (one)
Tip: It’s inevitable that babies or young children will get sick sometimes when they first go into day care.
Don’t have a full-time nanny? As a last resort, specialist nurses at companies like Emirates Home Nursing (www.emirateshomenursing.ae) can come to your home and watch your little one while you go to work.
Did you know?
All new mothers are entitled to two 30-min nursing breaks each working day during the 18 months following delivery. “These can be combined or taken at the start and end of each day, although you and your manager will need to agree on this,” Asma says.