The Balancing Act: A New Mom’s Journey into Full-Time Work and Breastfeeding

I recently read an article about the “fifth trimester”— we mark pregnancy in three trimesters, and the "fourth trimester" defines that time after delivery, that newborn stage where baby is adjusting to life outside of the womb. Lauren Smith Brody, the author of the book “The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Success, Sanity, and the Big Success After Baby,” considers the "fifth trimester" to be the first few months back at work. No matter how long your leave was or what type of career you have. It’s that transitional time where you’re learning how to balance work and life with a new baby.

The Struggle in the Return

Prior to having my daughter Lucy, I never in a million years thought I would struggle with going back to work. I thought I would have a baby, enjoy eight (amazing) weeks with her and then return back to work, picking up right where I left off. Little did I know, the “fifth trimester” was going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Women work full-time and have babies all the time — it should be easy, right? It should come naturally, right? Being a full-time working mother is not an exception like it used to be. Women don’t have to decide between a career and a family like they used to. But being a full-time working mother comes with many questions. What will I do for childcare? Will I be able produce enough breastmilk to continue to feed my child and work full-time? How will I balance work and my life at home? Who will be my support system? How will I function with so little sleep?

Lucy is my first child, so of course we had all the books that help you prepare for everything. From being pregnant to delivery to caring for a newborn baby. A new baby is full of so many unknowns and new learnings as a parent. It’s an exciting new path in life but you literally have no idea what you’re doing. That’s why I thought returning to work would be easy. It’s something I know how to do. I’ve been doing it for several years. It wouldn’t require a book or a call to the doctor or late-night calls to my mother.

What I didn’t realize was that returning to work was going to be nothing like before. I was a new person. I was a Mom now. There are not a lot of resources out there to prepare you for this “fifth trimester.” I found myself questioning my capabilities, struggling to manage my expectations as a new working mom and often blaming myself when I didn’t have enough time in the day to complete tasks. I was so disappointed in myself because I wasn’t bouncing right back into the work groove.

The Balance

And to add to the mix of emotions, I was a full-time breastfeeding mother. Breastfeeding and working are no longer an exception for new mothers. Women don’t have to make the decision on whether they want to exclusively breastfeed or work. They don’t have to hide in bathrooms or go out to the car to pump. It’s a reality that women are working full-time and breastfeeding for the first year or so of their child’s life. Workplaces are being forced to accept this new reality and accommodate all the hard working, multitasking, dedicated women out there.

I was at my yearly female doctor visit, six months post-partum, when my doctor asked me, “Are you still breastfeeding?” I answered yes and told her that I planned to breastfeed until my daughter turned one. She quickly responded, “Good for you, and baby! It’s a lot of work, especially since you’re working full-time. It makes us Moms a little crazy.” I laughed but then began to think how right she was — I am a little crazy (in a good way) for breastfeeding and working full-time.

Breastfeeding is a fulfilling and rewarding experience to share with your child. I’ve developed such a great bond with my daughter and she loves me a little bit more than anyone else because of it. I’m beyond happy that I have been able to nurse my daughter and that we are still going strong 11 months post-partum. I know it’s not easy for a lot of moms and there are so many things that can happen or go wrong to make nursing nearly impossible.

Working outside of the home full-time takes a lot of hard work and dedication. There’s this constant worry of being able to keep my milk supply up, of whether or not I’m going to be able to pump enough milk to get Lucy through the next day at daycare so she doesn’t need to be supplemented with formula.

When I first returned back to work (eight weeks post-partum) I was pumping five times a day. Once in the morning before work, three times throughout the day at work and once before bed each night. I think most nursing moms would agree that pumping sucks. Literally. So, pumping five times a day is draining. When you throw in your full-time job that has a completely different set of demands, it’s very difficult to manage. Work schedules can be busy and meetings can be inconsistent day-to-day—pumping (x3) is just one more thing to fit into an already busy agenda. But in order to keep your supply up you have to make sure that you do it, at the same time, every single day.

There are days when being a breastfeeding mom and working full-time mom are very difficult but, in the end, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When I see the benefits of breastfeeding I know that I am making the right choices. When I get to see my daughter at the end of every work day, I know that because I work full-time, I’m instilling a great work ethic into her mind. I’m showing her that all things are earned and that you get what you give. I’m thankful that I have a great and supportive work team that has made this “fifth trimester” a little easier and that they are always willing to lend a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on or just provide me with a much-needed laugh.

Just like in business, there will be changes and new experiences in the market. You can either embrace them and create a new reality or bemoan the change as a burden. My baby is a gift that has changed my world.

What is your “fifth trimester” and are you up for the challenge?

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