Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina

For new parents, returning to work can mean navigating tough options

For Revonda Jessup and her fiance Brandon Wynn, returning to work posed challenges they never imagined. (Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Wynn)

For Revonda Jessup, the hardest part about returning to work after giving birth was finding a childcare provider she could trust. Jessup, a podiatrist who owns her own practice in Huntersville, said she may have visited at least eight daycare providers before she finally landed on one.

“It was extremely difficult,” she recalled. “You’re leaving, going to work, and you’re entrusting someone else with your child.”

And then there were concerns related to keeping her business afloat – hiring a podiatrist who could stand in during her pregnancy.

Jessup’s fiancé, Brandon Wynn, said he had imagined himself doing more to help during those initial weeks and month, but with a web-development business of his own to run, he found himself being stretched thin.

What Jessup and Wynn experienced is all too common for first-time parents, says Christy Colgan, a health and wellness manager for Blue Cross N.C.

For parents looking to make that transition easier, Colgan said, planning is essential, even for those early days immediately after a child is born.

Who’s caring for mom?

 “When you get home, who’s going to help make sure there’s food on the table,” Colgan said. “Is it your partner? If you don’t have a partner, is there a family member or close friend that can do that?

Colgan said mothers in that first week or two often “forget to eat or you forget what time of day it is because you’re up every two or three hours with the newborn.”

Jessup, whose son, Jackson, is now almost six months old, said that’s a lesson she had to learn – to sleep when the baby sleeps.

“When the baby is sleeping, a lot of times you want to clean up or wash clothes or clean your house or maybe heat up dinner,” she said. “The only problem is, once your baby is up, you’re up, so you could wind up not getting any sleep, or getting maybe two or three hours a night, because you were busy doing other things.”

Wynn said keeping food in the home so that Jessup could rest and care for the baby was a job that fell to him.

“Especially when she gave birth, I was in the store a lot. That’s where my life was for a while,” he said.

‘A major ordeal’

Colgan, the mother of three sons, said new moms often underestimate the physical strain that childbirth will place on their bodies. So, for at least six weeks after giving birth, she said, women should avoid heavy lifting.

“You are recovering… Your body went through a major ordeal, so you need time to recover from that,” she said.

When a mom has been cleared by her doctor to resume physical activity, Colgan suggests a gradual approach –start by walking and build up to more strenuous activities.

“Getting outside is good for both you and the baby,” she said, adding that even modest amounts of exercise can help regulate postpartum hormones.

If a mother is breastfeeding and plans to return to work, Colgan recommends using her maternity leave to practice pumping and storing breast milk. For some women, she said, pumping does not come naturally. Colgan said some newborns who have been breastfed also require more time and practice before they will accept a bottle.

Returning to work

For some parents, returning to work can trigger new anxieties. They worry about the wellbeing of their child left in daycare; they wrestle with feelings of guilt or inadequacy.

Colgan said coming to terms with those emotions are essential for parents and child.

 “You cannot have all things,” she said. “You can’t be a working mom and a stay-at-home mom. That doesn’t mean that a stay-at-home mom is somehow a better mother or that a working mom is somehow a better mother. I think mothers represent both areas in today’s world, and there’s a place in society for all of us, and your kids are going to be okay.”

For Jessup, owning a medical practice meant she often had to work while officially on maternity leave. She sometimes worked from home on administrative tasks and occasionally went into the office.

“When you’re self-employed,” she said, “you really don’t get paid while you are out.”

Later, she gradually eased back into work, first going part time and building up to her regular schedule.

Colgan said that for parents whose employers will allow it, a gradual return to work often works best. She said she has seen some parents stagger the end of their maternity leave – going to work for one day a week, and then two, and then three, etc. She said other parents might choose to do flexible hours.

Daycare: The big decision

Colgan said no decision for a parent returning to work is more important than daycare. For some, that care may be provided in-home; for others, it will mean dropping off an infant at a commercial provider. Either way, she said, it’s important that parents feel comfortable with their decision.

For Jessup, finding a provider she could trust meant spending countless hours visiting various locations. She said the one she chose encourages new moms to drop in at any time.

Initially, Jessup and Wynn had thought that he would take on more of the daycare duties. That notion quickly faded, he said, when he realized that he couldn’t properly take care of their son while also maintaining his business.

His advice to others: “Be okay with going a little bit with the flow. You can still plan, but for new parents, just really be honest with yourself, even about your own fatigue and what you can stand and your circumstances with work.”

Colgan said parents returning to work also must come to terms with another reality – they can’t have it all.

If you’re a stay-at-home mom, the sacrifices are less resources,” she said. “But if you are a working mom, it might mean that your house isn’t always going to be clean, or the laundry is not always going to be done. You just have to really make a priority of what’s important to you at this season in your life and just be okay with a little bit of a mess.”

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