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Making It Work

Transitions: What's the best way to prepare my child for my return to work?

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, pp. 28-30

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I found a daycare provider for my six-week old who I'm comfortable leaving her with. I am concerned, however, that my baby is going to cry nonstop when I leave her because when I leave her alone with my husband, she cries until I return. She will drink expressed milk from a bottle so I know she'll be getting enough to eat, but I hate to see her so tired from crying. Does anyone have any suggestions on things I can start doing now to help with the transition from home to daycare?

Mother's Response

As you've learned already, breastfeeding is about more than the milk -- it's also the relationship and connection between you and your daughter. While she may only have been in your arms for a few weeks, your voice and heartbeat have been familiar to her for many months. You are her source of comfort and reassurance, as well as food. Naturally, you are concerned about her feelings. When you are not there, she misses you, and she expresses that sadness in the only way she can -- by crying.

In time, she will develop a relationship with and an attachment to your daycare provider. If you use a sling, ask the daycare provider to use it as well. Maybe you can begin singing a particular song when you are nursing or rocking your baby, and ask the daycare provider to sing the same song when she is trying to comfort your daughter.

Some babies deal with this situation by sleeping much of the day and being awake more in the evenings and at night, when they can be with their mothers. This can be hard on you, but keeping her close at night can help to maximize your sleep.

There is no easy solution to this situation. Babies naturally want to be with their mothers, and will grieve when they are separated. Your daughter isn't able to think, "It's okay, Mom will be back in a few hours." All she knows is that she loves you and wants to be with you, and you aren't there. This is a good thing. Strong attachments are the foundation for all future relationships. Encouraging your daycare provider to comfort and soothe your baby as much as possible, and staying close when you are home together, can help you through this challenge.

Teresa Pitman
Guelph ON Canada

Mother's Response

My 13-month-old son will be going to a new daycare next month. We visited a couple of weeks ago so I could see him interact with the other children as well as with the provider. I was concerned about what would happen when I left because my son cries when I leave him with my husband, though he does not cry when I leave him with his great-grandmother. While we were there I went to my car by myself for a few minutes to do a "test run." Would it be possible for you to visit your daycare now once or twice before you return to work and leave the room for a few minutes to see how your baby reacts?

Treat the day just as you would if it were a regular day when she would be staying there. If you have a blanket you typically use when you nurse your daughter, maybe you could send that with her so she has the comfort of your scent.

Also, be sure your physical, non-verbal actions reflect that you are comfortable leaving your daughter at the daycare. Try to remain as calm and confident as possible. Talk to your daughter and let her know that you love her, you'll miss her, and you'll be back in a few hours. Even though your daughter is only six weeks old, she'll be able to tell how you really feel.

Angela Kelly
Bloomingdale MI USA

Mother's Response

One of the best ways for a baby to feel connected to mom when mom is gone is through the sense of smell. Smell is our strongest sense when it comes to memory reclamation. Even though infants don't know that mom will return when she's gone, her smell will help remind him/her of that wonderful person on whom he/she is so dependant. I often wore a shawl when my youngest was an infant, and she would cuddle up with it when I would leave her with her dad or anyone else. It was not particularly soft, but it smelled like me, and she could connect with that smell. It didn't eliminate her distress at my not being with her, but it did seem to help comfort her until I returned.

Nancy Franklin

Mother's Response

It may be that your husband is uncomfortable with a small baby, and your baby is detecting his anxiety. Many men prefer the interaction with an older baby or toddler to caring for a newborn. Often an experienced caregiver can put a fussy baby at ease. We've probably all seen a grandmother calm a fussy baby immediately. All the daycare providers I've encountered enjoy working with children and have a relaxed and confident attitude. You may find that your fussy baby isn't fussy at all with the right caregiver.

Both of my children went into full-time daycare at 10 weeks and I continued to breastfeed them for an extended period of time. I tried in-home care with my first child, but due to personal and medical reasons, I switched to a full-time professional daycare center when my daughter was five months old. When I returned to work after my second child was born, I enrolled him in the same center. I breastfed my children when I dropped them off in the morning, and I returned during my lunch hour to breastfeed them again. The rest of the time they received my expressed milk. Nursing them at the center gave me plenty of opportunity to observe the care my children received in the nursery. Most child care workers will tell you that the babies cry when their mothers leave, but they usually stop crying within moments and are okay the rest of the day. Many times I left a sobbing baby, which can tear your heart out, only to return to a happy and playful child who did not want to go home. I also observed some babies who cried for an extended period.

Nursing my baby at lunch meant we had to deal with two separations instead of one. However, I think that the regularity of my visits lessened my child's anxiety. On lucky days, my child would fall asleep while nursing. Often I would surreptitiously switch my own nipple with a pacifier when it was time to leave, and quietly step out.

My insider's view of daycare tells me that it worked for my children, but it is not for everyone. I chose a professionally staffed daycare because I needed assistance with a temporarily handicapped baby. Professional caregivers should have experience with all sorts of temperaments and abilities. Furthermore, they should be trained in the feeding and stooling of breastfed babies and the handling of expressed milk. The pay for child care workers is low, however, and the staff turnover is high. I found this to be a problem at various times during my children's daycare experience. Some daycare centers let children stay with the same teachers until they age out, but mine had teachers and rooms assigned by age. At times, my children's emotional lives were disrupted by changing and departing teachers, yet I was always constant. I practiced an intimate style of parenting at home, and my children remained firmly attached to me.

Explore your options. Many mothers turn to family or friends for child care with personal attention. Others choose home-based care for similar reasons. Still, others trust the training and experience provided by professional centers. Try leaving your baby with a caregiver for a few hours and see how she does. You may want to try some half days while still on leave and then stagger your return to work. With my children, I returned to work on a Wednesday or Thursday, so we soon had a weekend to recover from the change. I gave my babies my full attention in the evening. I found that by cosleeping, I could nurse my baby frequently through the night and still get plenty of sleep. Many working mothers make arrangements to share sleep with their babies and night nurse to make up for their absence during the day.

Be as flexible as possible. If your baby does not do well in a particular setting, then try another. Ask your chosen care provider to note your child's mood and fussiness. You should feel free to drop in unannounced. If the child care provider does not seem communicative or if your baby experiences extreme anxiety, make other arrangements.

You may want to take an extended leave or try working part-time for a while. Perhaps you can bring your baby to work or work from home for several months. Little ones are often content to be held in a sling while mom takes care of business. Your co-workers may enjoy having a baby around, too. Be assured though, that mothers have always combined mothering and working, whether in the home, on the farm, or beyond. It's not always easy, but with perseverance, you can find the right balance between working and parenting.

Mary Joan Vaccarella
Hickory NC USA

Mother's Response

I first heard the La Leche League concept about a baby needing his mother while I was pregnant with my first child, but didn't really begin to understand it until he was born. I soon learned that I also had an intense need to be with him. I was able to negotiate with my employer to cut back from a full-time schedule to a part-time schedule. My husband's job allowed him to pick up my son at the child care provider's home several times each week and take him home so we were able to keep his time in out-of-home care at a minimum, and he seemed to be able to manage this time away from me.

When my second child was born, she had a much more intense personality than her brother. I realized pretty quickly that she was not the type of baby who would adapt to out-of-home care. My husband agreed and, because we had learned to live more simply when I changed my employment arrangement after the birth of my son, the decision to leave paid employment came easier. I was strongly influenced by reading the book Sequencing by Arlene Rossen Cardoza, which my LLL Leader suggested. That book, along with the support of my LLL Group, changed my life.

My children are in school now, and I am back at work part-time. I have no regrets about having decided to simplify my life in order to stay home with my three children.

Sara Dodder Furr
Lincoln NE USA

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