One of the biggest decisions to make before getting pregnant is how and whether you’ll continue to work and at what intensity. Maybe this is an easy, all-or-nothing answer for you (or maybe you don’t have a choice), and you’ll either continue to work full time or you’ll stay at home full time.
If it’s the former, your professional life will be rocked quite considerably. One, you won’t be bringing your A game to the office for quite a while—it’s impossible to do so when you’re getting two to four hours of sleep at a stretch. Secondly, you just won’t be as enthralled as you were pre-baby with spreadsheets or sales calls. You just won’t, at least for while. You’ll be thinking about the baby, worrying about the baby, cooing about the baby and perhaps pumping breast milk for the baby when you used to take afternoon coffee with your coworkers.
Having a newborn means major professional upheaval in either case. You need to prepare logistically and emotionally for this huge life change before you decide on being a working mommy or a stay-at-home one.
If your work choices are more flexible—you can cut back to part time or work from home, and these scenarios are attractive to you—hooray! Working a few hours a day or a few days a week, or simply cozying up to your own com-puter and not having to shower and schlep to a cubicle every-day, can be effective ways of finding more work and baby balance in your life.
But don’t think that because you work from home you aren’t going to need some childcare.
The work from home folk tale
Maybe you’ve heard of one of these mythical moms who is able to keep the professional fires burning remotely from home while bouncing a happy baby on her hip. She takes conference calls while breastfeeding and pushes out tons of e-mails and paperwork in her cashmere robe while baby sleeps peacefully nearby. Or she spends a blissful day with baby and then happily jumps on her computer in the evening to get a good six hours of productive work done after baby goes down easily for the night.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this person doesn’t exist. Or if she does—if you actually know someone like this and you’ve seen her in person and she doesn’t sport zombie eyes and suffer from narcolepsy—she’s an anomaly, at best.
Here’s the proof and it involves some math: Newborn babies need to eat about every two hours. If you’re breastfeeding, it can take up to 45 minutes for baby to slurp it all down. Then you have to burp the baby, change the baby and lull the baby back to sleep. Occasionally, you’ll also want to spend some time nuzzling and playing with the baby. This leaves you, at most, a little less than an hour to brush your own teeth, pee and get your own abbreviated shut-eye before the next feeding cycle starts. And remember, this routine goes on 24 hours a day.
Oh eventually, after a few months, your baby will start going longer between feedings—four and then five and then six hours—but you’ll want those stretches to come at night, so you can sleep! If baby is napping reliably a few hours at a time during the day, that means he’s not sleeping reliably a few hours at a time at night, so if you’re expecting to work during long afternoon naps, think again. They either won’t happen predictably or, if they do, it will be because you’ve been up half the night and often won’t be able to spell your own name the next day let alone intelligently run a webcast conference call from your home office.
Working from home can be a great option, but you’d better line up some childcare assistance in that case, too. Or be a superhero.
Katherine Ludwig is a lawyer turned freelance writer and mother of two who thinks passing the Bar was cake next to breastfeeding and potty training.