Nora is 6 weeks old. Yes, set loose the streamers and give her a high five, but what really blows my mind is the fact that so many women go back to work now. What if I had to resume work on Monday?? I don’t, because for some reason the fertility gods love me and I was able to plan children to be born almost precisely 6 weeks before the end of the school year, which then gives me an extra 2 months of vacation/leave. Still not enough time, but certainly better than 6 measly weeks.
There are so, so many things wrong with the 6 week maternity leave, and I have precious minutes that I’m choosing to type instead of sleep, so I’ll just try to highlight whatever pops into my head right now.
- Your body needs to recover.
For some reason no one really tells you enough about lochia before you give birth. Even if I look up the definition right now it elusively says:
noun, plural lo·chi·a. Medicine/Medical .
the liquid discharge from the uterus after childbirth.
This is a rather elusive way of saying that you bleed like a stuck pig. FOR UP TO SIX WEEKS. Ask a new mom, go ahead, ask her, if she’s surprised by how much blood pours from her body well after she’s given birth. Even those properly warned are surprised by the actual amount of blood. Like, you wear disposable underwear with the thickest pad created and you just shed everything and throw it away every couple of hours. Sometimes the bleeding only lasts a couple of weeks, but then if you have an active day it starts back up again.
I thought I was in the clear and then went to the wildlife park with my infant and toddler, walked the most mileage I had clocked since giving birth while wearing a 10 lb. baby in a wrap and pushing a 2 year old just shy of 30 lbs. in a stroller, oh and constantly lifting said 30 lb. child in order for them to see the animals. (Dude…that’s why there’s bars that you can see between.) I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to drive home, but needed to get to my bed. Not only had the lochia begun to flow again, but I crawled into bed with a fever and the chills on an 85 degree day. I was worried Husband was going to have to bring me to the ER. I had to sleep for 3 hours before I felt even well enough to stand, let along stop shaking enough to hold the baby. Not that a normal work day is that physically intense for most people, but the point is that a woman’s body is still in recovery. Recovery from carrying a large object inside their body, with organs rearranging and all that fun stuff. Recovery from pushing the large object out into the world, all that that encompasses, and then organs and body attempting to return to their normal places and functions. This takes time. And even if 6 weeks were adequate for the general recovery of this to take place it differs from woman to woman and how the birth happened. Sometimes there are stitches to heal, hemorrhaging, sometimes there was botched medical interventions and normal medical interventions, and if you had a C-section (this is seriously MAJOR abdominal surgery, people!) you are given a minimum of 8 weeks recovery (but what if your job only gives you 6 weeks or less paid?) A “normal” birth is supposed to take 6 weeks for your body to recover from.
- You will have to invest in a work appropriate transitional closet.
Your body will not be back to its pre-pregnant state after 6 weeks. Sometimes freakshow famous people make it seem like that can happen, but it’s the same voodoo magic that makes their hair perpetually shiny and frizz-free and able to walk in ridiculously high heels. Don’t fret, it is possible to fit into those work pants again, but it ain’t happenin’ at 6 weeks. And even when you do lose all the weight your hips, abdomen, feet, even rib cage may be spread out or just different so your clothes still may not fit right.
- Birth is to your brain like having a lobotomy and studying for finals in college while on a drinking binge.
Who wants a 6 week postpartum mom trying to use her brain and function in a real-life situation anyway? Postpartum women have an intense amount of hormones raging still. Brain function is low, you can’t spell or remember simple facts like the year, your phone number, or names of people you’ve known your entire life. And you will not be sleeping. I don’t care if you have that freakazoid baby that allegedly sleeps 10 hours. Your baby will not sleep for you at some point, whether they are sick or teething or just decide they HATE SLEEP LIKE IT’S THEIR LIFE’S MISSION TO HATE SLEEP and the day that you are expected to go and perform some sort of task that someone is paying you to perform at a certain level of adequacy will cause you to erupt a hormonal unleashing upon an unsuspecting victim. They may or may not be innocent of this brutal side-effect.
- Your baby finally starts doing cool stuff at 6 weeks.
Up until 6 weeks your baby has slept, screamed, eaten, and pooped. Right around 6 weeks is when the good stuff begins. Smiles, cooing, engaging contact, making the humans around them fall in love with them. Up until then biology was preventing you from eating your young with the all-natural high of the hormone oxytocin that’s released while breastfeeding and bonding. What if you’re not the human there with them during this good stuff? Forcing families to miss out on a baby who changes every second of every day at this stage is cruel and unnatural.
- In my experience, pumping at work was a huge pain in the ass commitment.
When you’re with your child you just pop the kid on the boob whenever necessary. You’re feeding your child and it’s productive. When a baby breastfeeds good old biology kicks in and there are enzymes and hormones and whatever other science I don’t know about that places an order for the milk. It tells your body how much to make, temperature, and certain ingredients like if there should be certain antibodies to fight the germs big brother brought home from daycare. Basically, breastmilk and the whole breastfeeding process is the most complex, amazing thing I’ve ever heard of. Breast is da bomb. (I think I just ousted myself as being in high school in the ‘90s.)
Pumping is second nature to a lot of breastfeeding women these days, but you have to remember that usually you have to make up for that pumping time with babe-to-breast time, so that the baby can place enough orders for enough milk supply. I say usually because I personally know one mom who was able to pump without nursing for TWO years! (Not that she didn’t try or want to breastfeed.) Not anything I’d heard of before. The longer you’ve had a regular, exclusive breastfeeding relationship with your child, the better your milk supply will withstand your work schedule. If your milk supply does drop when you go back to work you may need to schedule another pump session at work, and breastfeed your child more often at home. There are herbs and teas that you can take to increase milk supply, like fenugreek and blessed milk thistle. I also found that I could pump more milk if I’d chugged a large coconut water during the morning before I pumped. It’s super hydrating, which helps milk supply.
I found that there are stress factors around when, where and how to pump. As a teacher I had to advocate my own time for pumping. I felt guilty if students asked to stay in for help with math and I couldn’t because I had to pump. Letting the students down made me feel like a failure as a teacher and not pumping was a failure as a mother. Skipping the pump session to help the students would have caused another problem though. Lots o’ milk and no baby or pump to take care of it. Breast pads became my friend.
Be warned: You may have unexpected milk let-down and be standing in front of your co-workers or say 22 eleven year olds when two wet stains begin actively spreading down your shirt.
My classroom was basically walls of windows and no lock on the door. I ended up pumping in the small room off of the nurse’s office where she checks lice and sick children lay on the cot while waiting to be picked up by a parent. I only pumped once a day because of the stressors around pumping in my work environment. If Liam had been younger (he was almost 9 months when I went back to work) I would have forced myself to pump 2-3 times during the day, but because Liam and I had already established such a strong nursing relationship and milk supply, once a workday and once at night was enough pumping for me. When I go back to work with Nora as a nurser, I will have to pump more often. She will only be about 4 months. 6 week old babies? They’ve only just figured out how to latch and how to regulate the milk supply! 6 weeks is not long enough to provide a really great breastfeeding relationship if Mom is going back to work full-time.
If you want some wonderful, specific help with being a breastfeeding mother who returns to work, I highly recommend the book Nursing Mother, Working Mother by Gale Pryor and Kathleen Huggins
- And maybe you want to go back to work.
Maybe there are new moms who have recovered nicely at six weeks and you know what, they are looking forward to returning to their job. They want adult conversations that don’t revolve around bodily functions, they feel like the childcare they’ve chosen is going to be a great fit for their family (maybe the daycare lady can get the baby to stop screaming), and they’ve had enough of Kathie Lee’s wine-induced commentary. Certainly, return! Maybe a dad wants to be able to help his wife recover and enjoy the important bonding time with his infant. Let’s put the decision into the hands of the family and not create a misogynistic, financial corner to back women and their family into. How did our country end up with women and children as its lowest priority? Do I need to state the obvious?—that nurturing our children properly only gives us healthier, smarter, more capable adults; men and women. Adults who then run companies and our country. I really only see an investment here, people. Something must be done. What can we do to change this?