Financial and career pressure in Hong Kong means that many women cannot take maternity leave beyond the 10 weeks they are entitled to. Trying to find the balance between a career, care of a young baby, the physical and mental recovery of childbirth and coming to terms with juggling it all is an immense turning point in a woman’s life. In the first of our series on the importance of mental wellbeing after childbirth, we spoke with Dr. Zoe Fortune, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong, for some at-home practical tips to make returning to work easier. In our second article, we’ll detail some pointers for making the transition easier at work.
Your mental well-being is important
Mental well-being is particularly fragile during times of significant change and having a baby is definitely one of those times. As women, a lot of us go from being 100% career-driven to, after having a baby, being 100% baby-focused during maternity leave. When we return to work, whether at 2 months or 2 years post-partum, we have to make a major shift to balance these two completely different priorities, both of which require a lot of energy.
Numerous studies around the world have shown the association between a maternity leave of less than a year and risk of post-partum depression. There’s a lot to think about during this period of your life and the more you can prepare, organise and outsource (especially in our lucky city), the more mental space and time you’ll have to enjoy work and play.
Check in with yourself, your colleagues and your family as to how you’re feeling. Between your hormones shifting after pregnancy and experiencing a major life change, a lot of women experience a range of emotions, especially when returning to work. If you are feeling anxious or down, do seek support and talk to someone. Sometimes just saying the words and hashing out a solution with a friend or your partner is all you need; sometimes you will need professional support. Don’t forget that a lot of women go through this and there are resources out there just for you.
Your doctor or Maternal Health and Child Centre will be able to refer you to appropriate support; or you can self-refer to an organisation or psychologist. For a list of resources, see our article on post-partum mental health resources.
All this being said, with a bit of organisation and making sure they know where to find the logistical and emotional support they need, a lot of women find returning to work rewarding. For most women, it takes time to find this balance. In this article, we’ll share some practical tips for home that may help you stay mentally healthy during this period of upheaval.
At-home tips to make returning to work easier
Ensure your helper’s (and yours, for that matter!) pediatric first aid certification is up-to-date
Having someone at home who knows how to handle emergencies will help put your mind at ease.
Practice your morning routine while you’re on maternity leave
Organisation goes a long way. What do you need to have ready to make mornings easy? In the days and weeks leading up to your return to work, try leaving the house during the day and then progress to getting out on time in the morning. Getting out of the house in morning can be a challenge balancing breastfeeding/pumping, having breakfast and getting yourself washed and dressed.
Work with your partner and helper to make sure you know how domestic chores will be handled
At the end of a work day, the last thing you want to do is decide who is making dinner, cleaning the house or doing laundry. Whether you outsource these tasks or do them yourselves, make sure you and your partner decide how to get them done before you’re trying to juggle work and motherhood.
Work with your partner and helper to make sure you know how baby-related tasks will be handled
There are a lot of tasks related to caring for a baby. Like household chores, determine with your partner and helper who will be responsible for what to ensure the day runs smoothly. For example, some parents will choose to have one parent responsible for bath time, the other responsible for the bedtime story. It’s nice to have part of the day to look forward to with your little one.
Agree on your ‘in case of emergency’ plan with your partner
Babies and children get sick; it’s a fact of life. There will be times when you may need to stay home or leave work in order to take your child to the doctor or keep an eye on them. Look at both yours and your partner’s work schedules and think about how you’ll both be able to be flexible if something like that comes up.
Streamline your wardrobe
It’s true. Some things still won’t fit when you head back to work. Instead of being faced with the challenge of getting dressed every morning, shift anything that doesn’t fit to the back of the closet and take the frustration out of getting dressed.
Try to address any sleep issues
This is a biggie. Going to work sleep-deprived is a challenge on the best of days but is particularly difficult when you’ve been sleep-deprived for months at a time. However you decide to work on getting more sleep is up to you: sleep training on your own, hiring a sleep consultant to help you, co-sleeping, or taking turns through the night. It’s hard at first, but a good night’s sleep (or at least some good night’s sleep) is essential to the whole family’s mental well-being.
Feeling anxious or overwhelmed can make falling asleep more challenging. Some mindfulness techniques such as meditation or using a to-do-list (rather than trying to remember every little thing) can help separate your day from bedtime.
If you’re breastfeeding…
Plan how much you’ll need to have stored, how many times per day you want to pump, etc. Make sure you have all the equipment (pump, extra bottles/parts, freezer pack) ready for work, and sterilizing equipment and freezer storage ready.