Many families are fortunate to have at least a few days, if not a few weeks, with both parents at home following the birth of a baby.
Welcoming a new baby is a time of huge transition, whether it’s baby number one or baby number five.
Within that huge transition there are many small transitions, such as when the partner returns to work.
Having an extra pair of hands, or someone to tag team with, who’ll help you to catch a break so you can eat with two hands (something you never realised was such a treat, pre-kids) makes welcoming a new baby a little easier.
When it’s time for your partner to return to work, you might wonder how you will survive and how your partner will get through a full day of work on so little sleep.
Tips For Coping When Your Partner Goes Back To Work
Here are 5 tips to for a smooth transition as your partner returns to work:
#1: Expect Some Disorder
Disorder? Wait, that sounds like the exact opposite of smooth. In all reality, a smooth transition after baby is rarely actually 100% smooth, but in this case, smooth means better than complete chaos.
That cup of coffee you asked your partner to leave out? In a sleep deprived haze, he might have forgotten. Expected him home at exactly five o’clock? Well, traffic wasn’t too kind. And what about that load of laundry you meant to get to? Well, your baby demanded 100% of your attention all day – except for that moment you finally found to make yourself that forgotten coffee. And let’s be honest, coffee is always more important than laundry.
Keep your expectations realistic. Be prepared for hiccups, forgotten things and chores that simply are not done as planned. If you expect your partner’s return to work to mean it’s time for life to get back to ‘normal', like before baby, then you’ll find yourself struggling quite a bit during the initial transition. Expect a bit of disorder! It will still be disorder, but you’ll cope much better when things don’t go as planned.
#2: Get Help – You Don’t Have To Do This Alone
Your partner might be heading back to work, but that doesn’t mean you have to be on solo baby duty, keep up the house and make meals. This is especially true if your partner has only a few days to be home with you. In the early days and weeks, you’re still physically recovering, as well as learning to care for this new baby; you can’t be expected to handle everything.
Consider hiring a postnatal doula to help during the first few days your partner is gone. If you have friends or family itching to spend time with your new little one, ask them to bring coffee, empty the dishwasher, or help fold the laundry. If you have older children, set up play dates or visits with their favourite aunts. Look into organising a meal train, so friends and family can support you with a meal. It really does ‘take a village to raise a child', and although most of us no longer live in villages, the meaning is the same.
#3: Have A Sleep Plan
While partners certainly need rest after a work day, it doesn’t mean you need none while at home with baby. Taking care of a newborn is quite physically demanding, not to mention that you’re still healing from making and birthing a human being. Suddenly being shifted to solo baby duty at night and during the day can quickly lead to physical and emotional burnout.
Come up with a plan that works for both of you. Perhaps that means doing solo night duty for part of the night, so your partner gets a four to five hour stretch to make it through work. Before and after that stretch, your partner could be available to help so you get enough rest too. Maybe your partner is a night owl, so you can head off to bed early to get some rest while he stays up with baby. Or maybe he’s an early riser and will keep baby settled while you catch some early morning rest.
Every situation is different, every job has different demands, and every baby’s sleep varies, but it’s vital to have a sleep plan that ensures everyone gets enough rest. Someone who needs to drive long distances every day probably needs some solid rest, for safety reasons, but a mother can’t be expected to survive on little to no sleep while caring for a colicky baby – also for safety reasons.
#4: If Possible, Stagger Your Partner’s Return
Paternity leave varies, according to your country, state and employer. If your partner has flexible paternity leave, consider staggering his return. For example, if your partner has just eight available days off, consider using the first four in a row and then saving the others for days you have appointments, or to prevent burn out over the following two weeks.
Perhaps he can’t stagger the return to work, but can work flexible hours. Consider going back for a couple of half days first, or working just one or two hours less for the first few days.
#5: Plan Ahead
If your little one has yet to arrive, planning now might mean a much smoother transition. For some, finances are the biggest dictator of a partner’s return to work. If possible, begin saving now. If there isn’t flexible leave, regardless of your budget, considering saving for a postnatal doula, or for house cleaning or meal services.
Begin talking to friends and family. Think about who would be helpful in keeping you company the first few days you’re alone, who could accompany you to your first few pediatrician appointments, or who would be up for planning a meal train for you.
For many of us, especially those in the US, paternity leave flies by. Having your partner home – someone who knows your day to day routine – can be a huge help and comfort during the immediate postnatal period. The thought of him returning to work can be quite daunting. Keeping realistic expectations and having a plan for adequate rest and household support can make the difference between utter chaos and a smoother transition.