Has anyone read about the fifth trimester? It’s all about going back to work after you have a baby. I’d never really thought about what life would look like once I went back to work with a little I knew my priorities would shift, but I had no idea the struggle I was about to face. Trying to prioritize your family and career is definitely an adjustment. If you’re facing this right now, the good news is that you’ll survive this phase. And you can do both. Here are a few of the things that worked for me when returning to my career with a new baby.
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The Fourth and Fifth Trimesters
First of all – what are the fourth and fifth trimesters? If you’ve birthed a baby, I’m fairly confident you are familiar with the first, second, and third trimester, that refers to a baby’s development stages.
Harvey Carp refers to the fourth trimester in his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block. He explains how jarring it is adjusting to being outside the womb for many babies, and provides his “5s” strategy on calming newborn infants. The fourth trimester is those first few months after a baby is born when he is adjusting to the new world.
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Many people accept this happily and remember how exhausted they were, and how much crying ensued during that time period. What even fewer people have heard of, is the fifth trimester.
The Fifth Trimester
The fifth trimester refers to those first months that a woman goes back to work after having her baby. The biggest challenge in this phase is the adjustment of being away from your baby, and for your baby learning to deal with new caregivers who aren’t mamma. The fifth trimester is another huge season of adjustment, one that is as pivotal as the fourth trimester, but for different reasons. Lauren Brody even built an entire business on explaining the fifth trimester and how to deal. Check it out here: http://www.thefifthtrimester.com/blog/
At this point, you’re pretty used to keeping a tiny human alive. The screaming and sleeplessness that make the fourth trimester (and entering the world of motherhood) so jarring are almost second nature — or if you’re lucky, are gone!
Once you’ve gotten into the groove of being a parent, bam – back to work. Now you need to juggle your responsibilities as a mamma with your work AND home responsibilities. Trying to fit yourself back into your old routine feels like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Everything about you has changed, and yet most of us try to jump right back into our jobs and careers like we never left. Let’s break down how to be successful as a mom and as an employee, prioritizing both your baby AND your career during the first year.
Set your priorities for your family
One of the most immediate challenges of your new reality is your schedule. Unless you always left work at 5 p.m. on the dot and never worked nights or weekends, your schedule will shift (likely dramatically) once you have a baby.
If you used to routinely take calls at 6 p.m. but now do daycare pickup – block your calendar at 5 p.m. and if anyone schedules a call during that time, gently remind them that you’re unavailable and ask to reschedule.
Unless you let others know what your schedule is, everyone will expect you’re back to business as usual. If you begin blocking your calendar and leaving early, make a plan for getting that extra work done.
Many people can split pickup and drop off with their spouse. If you’re only doing pickup, can you get to work an hour earlier to catch up on your task list? Can you work through lunch? A baby will force you to be more efficient and better at prioritization, but more on that in a bit.
If you’re breastfeeding – prioritize pumping
Breastfeeding was one of the most amazing things I decided to do during our little’s infancy. If you want more info on how we did it, check out my breastfeeding series. You can also just go to the navigation menu and click the drop-down under Babies and Toddlers!
If you’re breastfeeding, one of the first things you need to do to prioritize your baby is to block pumping time on your calendar. Make it non-negotiable and don’t take in-person meetings during your scheduled pump times. (Conference calls while on mute are still applicable :))
If you have any issues with this through your employer, you can politely remind him or her that it’s the law. You have a right to pump. It’s also legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states. It’s no longer 1950. The U.S. is catching up with the rest of the world regarding breastfeeding. While we have a LOONNG way to go on maternity policies (don’t get me started) — you have the right to pump breaks until your child is one, legally.
Unless you have oversupply issues, getting enough milk for your little one will be something that stresses you out. If you don’t prioritize pump sessions your mental and physical health will suffer.
Devote Specific Time to Baby
It’s hard to go from spending every waking moment with your baby to sending them to daycare or off with a caregiver every day. Devoting specific time to your baby whether that’s in the morning, evening, or middle of the night for feedings will ensure you still feel connected.
When you’re with baby – try to be present. Don’t worry about your work phone, the mountain of stuff on your to-do list or all the other pressures pulling you in a million different directions. I know this is nearly impossible advice. BUT, I’m going to remind you of what you’ve probably already heard a million times.
They’re only little once. And it’s only for a little while. The work will still be there tomorrow.
How to prioritize your career
Ok, on to the part about prioritizing your career. I just wanted to talk about all the adjustments you’re going to need to make to ensure you’re making time for the most important thing – that little baby! Since all mammas know that our children come first, it’s ok to figure out what your new normal looks like when you return from maternity leave.
Now – here are some of the things you’ll need to do to ensure your career doesn’t fall off the rails while you’re figuring out the balance.
When you’re working, be 100% in
As hard as it is to stay focused, letting distractions in at work will only increase the amount of time it takes to get your work done. This increases the time you need to be away from your sweet little bundle.
Stay 100% focused while at work. Be a good co-worker, but don’t gossip for 30 minutes in the galley or by the water cooler. Spend your time truly focused on your projects and deliverables and it will continue to show, even if you aren’t putting in as much face time.
Get ruthless with prioritization
As with step one, you’re going to need to be laser focused to get all your work done on time and with precision. That means saying no to things you may have taken on in the past. If the project or request isn’t directly helping you achieve your goals, or move your business/task list/priorities forward – cut it out.
I am terrible at saying no. Even though I believe myself to be a ruthless prioritizer, I don’t typically say I can’t do something. What I AM able to do (fairly effectively) is discuss how new priorities and requests will impact what I’m already working on. I reprioritize deliverables, arrange due dates, and realign team resources every time a new task or project gets added to our list. This is important to do EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. If your schedule is maxed out and you begin taking on additional work you’re going to get behind. Period.
You’re probably not sleeping so your brain already isn’t functioning at max capacity. It’s far better to overdeliver on fewer projects than to take on too much work and disappoint everyone.
Learn to delegate
One of the most important things I’m learning in my career is that it doesn’t matter who does the work, as long as it gets done with high quality. If there are areas of your job you can delegate to subordinates, or out to other partners or members of your team now is a great time to do so.
Giving others the opportunity to try tasks that improve their skills is also important for their development. More often than not, others more junior than you are happy for the opportunity to try something new. Once you start doing this regularly, you’ll realize it’s infinitely easier to edit and critique someone else’s work (or just allow them to complete the task fully) than to start from scratch and do it yourself. You’re freeing up more of your time and developing others. It’s a win-win.
Understand that this is a short phase – Don’t make any rash decisions
Yes, your work might not look exactly like it did pre-baby. Yes, you may need to adjust your schedule. And yes, at first, it’s going to be HARD. The adjustment back to work is no walk in the park. BUT this is a very short phase. I promise that it will get easier. Making a rash decision like quitting, changing jobs, or throwing in the towel on your career aspirations isn’t the best move during this time period.
Your hormones are still out of whack. Sleep deprivation is proven to make people crazy. You need to adjust to your new normal routine before making any big life decisions. In almost all cases, your life will not resemble itself in three months. So hang in there. It gets easier. You will get to breathe again.
A big adjustment may, in fact, be best for you down the road, but don’t make that decision without giving your current career a chance. The adjustment is hard, but sometimes being back with adults is exactly what you need to get out of the new mommy fog.
Play your Career for the Long Term
On the note of not making any major decisions immediately after returning from maternity leave, you should also be planning your career for the long term. You can read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean in” or any other book that talks about how important it is to push through the early years with children to keep your career fire lit.
In my opinion, you need to do what works for you. For some people, that may mean taking a step back and working part-time or becoming a SAHM for a while. For others, they can continue to accelerate their careers. It looks different for everyone. However, you need to remember that you’re playing the long game. As I mentioned, your life and career look very different even after six months when you have a little at home.
Make sure you’re making the right decisions for you and your family in both the short and long term. These decisions and choices will evolve as your baby grows and you get more comfortable in your career. As a new mom, you can prioritize both. You can have both. You just need to understand what you want, and what boundaries you need to set in order to get there.