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Making It Work to Work

The foundation of staying sane while working is the same as if you were at home full-time: solid stress relief skills, support from your partner, and community with other mothers and families. On top of that, here are some practical actions you can take to have working work for you:

Finding a family-friendly workplace.
Sometimes you're stuck with a job, but usually, you've got some options. Before a planned pregnancy, you could look around for an employer that's more family-friendly than your current one, or start a business of your own; the same applies if you've taken significant time off your old job before returning to work. If you've come back to work some time ago, but the current situation is far from ideal, look around, using the want ads, headhunters, or resources on the Internet. You may also want to make a longer term plan and get specific training or experiences that will improve your skills and give you more options in the labor market. When you evaluate different opportunities, consider the family-related aspects of each job (in addition to the standard ones): Paid pregnancy leave? On-site childcare? Flextime? Telecommuting? Would your boss be sympathetic to your commitment to your children? Chance to avoid frequent business travel? Timesaving conveniences on the corporate campus, like ATMs, gyms, laundry services, or stores? The way you're likely to feel when you get home at the end of a day? Bottom line: what's the wear and tear going to be on your body and mind?

Managing maternity leave.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires businesses with fifty or more employees to give women twelve weeks of unpaid leave, but many companies are not affected by the FMLA, and those that are vary in their individual policies. Make sure you are crystal clear on the details that apply to you, keep a copy of the employee manual or any other applicable records, and take written notes of relevant conversations with a benefits manager or your boss. Once you know what you're working with, try to make a plan that's as flexible as possible, because there's a lot of inherent uncertainty about how you will feel and how it will go with your baby, especially if you're a first-time mom. You don't have to give in to pleas or pressure from people at work to return sooner than you'd like: just keep listening to that wise voice inside you that knows what's best for you and your family.

Continuing to breast-feed.
As we've seen, there are many benefits to you and your child of continuing to nurse while going off to a job. In some cases, you could nurse her at your work site (through on-site childcare or a nanny bringing her to you), zip over to see her if you live nearby (or she's in childcare nearby), or just go down the hall if you work at home. But more commonly, breast-feeding while working means pumping at work. Unfortunately, most workplaces are at best unhelpful when it comes to pumping, without any place more private than the ladies' rest room, and some are downright hostile.* Happily, many resources can help you continue with breast-feeding while you work, including articles in Mothering magazine (look to their Web site, www.mothering.com, for a listing), or the LaLeche League. A lactation consultant (your OB/GYN or midwife can refer you to one) can advise you about pumping or storing breast milk. Finally, for most mothers, feeling encouraged to continue breast-feeding - by a partner, other mothers, and hopefully coworkers - is vital, and it's appropriate to ask openly for the support you and your baby need.

Dealing with coworkers who grumble that you're getting special treatment.
There's no need to skulk around or pretend that you're childless, but you could also take reasonable steps to stay off their radar screens, like scheduling doctor appointments after work or during your lunch hour (if possible), and not using work time to chat about children. Do what's reasonable to make up any missed work. If you can't attend a meeting or go on a business trip, tell your manager in advance so you and she can make other arrangements, and talk with any coworkers that may be affected.

Standing up for your rights.
If you feel that you are being discriminated against at work due to being a mother - such as unreasonable exclusion from certain meetings, career opportunities denied, or outright demotion or firing - contact the National Partnership for Women and Families (202-986-2600; www.nationalpartnership.org) and they can help you understand your rights.

Stopping work from spilling over onto home.
The occasional call from the office is one thing, but it's another to have already limited time with your children and husband routinely interrupted and consumed by work. You may need to create a polite but firm boundary at your job, delegate more, or insist on increasing staffing so that the tasks that somehow can't wait at 5:30 p.m. get done earlier in the day, when they should have been done. Even without the phone ringing, if you're preoccupied by a problem at work, it could help to talk about it briefly with your mate, perhaps blowing off some steam, so you can set it aside for the next day.

*Besides stressing mothers, this attitude is shortsighted from a strictly business perspective. For example, one study found that working mothers who pumped breast milk had lower absentee rates than comparable mothers who weaned their babies (due to fewer colds and other illnesses in their children that required Mom to come home).

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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