By Morgan Michalowski, CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC
At my daughter’s 2-month well-child visit, my pediatrician said to me, “I won’t see you until after you start back at work. I want you to remember this: don’t judge yourself for how you feel the first few months back. You’ll want to quit. You’ll need time to figure out what the right path is for you. This is normal.”
My pediatrician didn’t know that I’d already been experiencing anxiety, fear, dread, and logistical challenges planning my return to work. Her words were a godsend when I was feeling embarrassed and weak for struggling to get back in the swing of working once my paid maternity leave was over.
Now, I want to do for YOU what she did for me. I want to assure you that there is no true “normal” for this topsy-turvy time in your life and that you have every reason to be extra gentle with yourself right now. I also want to provide you with practical resources for making the first few months back at work — and away from your baby — as painless as possible. (Which is a tall order if you’re dealing with pumping schedules, perinatal depression, or any of motherhood’s other curveballs!)
In this post, we’re looking at the 5th month of your 5th trimester postpartum. Even though average maternity leave is far too short for most mothers to adjust, many of you will have been back at work for at least four weeks and learned to readjust to balancing baby and career.
Your 5th trimester: month 5 postpartum, A.K.A. “Is This Really My Life?!”
Around this time, you may be wondering, “Is this really my life?” You feel like a double agent, wrangling office politics during the day and breastfeeding your baby at night. It’s disorienting, especially since your body is still in flux and your infant is growing like a little, chubby-cheeked weed! Here’s what to expect from month 5.
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As I mentioned in my post on month 4 postpartum, Your brain won’t actually be ready for you to separate from your baby until at least 6 months postpartum. (Another reason why the average maternity leave is too short!) Things to think about if you need to go back to work before 6 months:
Ask HR if your baby can visit you at work. If this is possible, who will bring your baby to you?
Can you breastfeed your baby directly at work? Studies show women who feed their babies during their day are more engaged and productive!
How will you handle breastfeeding and pumping?
Can you adjust your work hours those first few months to work from home, or have your baby with you at the office? More states are adopting babies-at-work programs for the first 6 months!
If you travel for your job, talk to your employer about getting Milk Stork. Milk Stork works with companies to ship pumped breast milk for moms who travel.
Perinatal mood disorder can show up around this time, so if you notice any changes to your mood or energy level that feel bothersome to you, check in with your OB or midwife.
Your body is burning a ton of calories if you’re breastfeeding. When you are the primary meal source for another human, this might not be the right time to focus on losing weight. Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, most moms report a strong craving for sugar during month 5 postpartum, as well as a lack of desire to work out, and a feeling that their body has not yet recalibrated. During this time, focus on eating healthy to fill cravings. Instead of following a weight-loss-focused diet, follow your body’s signals by learning what your cravings mean. Here’s what your cravings might be telling you:
Craving Candy! A sweet tooth usually means you need a nutrient that provides quick and lasting energy, like protein. You may also need more magnesium if you have both a sweet-tooth and leg cramps! Food sources rich in magnesium include spinach, legumes, almonds, and sesame seeds. Try a spoonful of peanut butter with a sprinkling of cacao nibs for a quick fix.
Craving Salt! If you are craving salt, try eating a calcium-rich snack. Salty foods temporarily increase calcium but don’t resolve your body’s long-term need for increased calcium. Try edamame with or without a little soy sauce on the side instead of chips or pretzels.
Craving a Burger! You most likely need more iron. Red meat is the easiest way to get iron, but for a healthier option, go for fish, chicken, or pea protein.
Craving Fries! If you’re craving fried-foods, you might need more fat in your diet. Try avocado toast with an egg.
Craving Ice-cream (all day). If you are craving ice cream, you might be tired and in need of an energy boost! You did just have a baby after all. A nap is in order.
OK, mammas, it’s check-in time: how does your home feel to you? Is it a sanctuary after a long day, or has it become another source of stress? If it’s the latter, you might want to rethink how to share household chores with your partner or support people. Make a quick list of the top 3 things that will help make your home feel zen and relaxing. Prioritize these 3 things either by delegating to others (nanny, family, loving friends?), sharing responsibility (partner or older children?), or hiring out (task rabbit, house cleaning, Marie Kondo).
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At this stage, your baby might:
Cry more often
Want more attention and physical contact
Search for you
Respond to their name
You’ve been at work for about a month now. This is a great time to figure out if your milk supply is keeping up with your baby or adjust your pumping schedule to fit your life. If you need more tips—including recommendations for great breastfeeding foods—check them out here
If you’re pregnant:
Prepare your 5th trimester postpartum support plan.
Find an IRL or virtual mental health therapist for postpartum recovery or your transition back to work. With all the adjustments you’ll be making to your life, finding someone to talk to that you trust can give you that extra cushion you need to feel less alone.
Connect with a few moms in your neighborhood and get to know them. If you need emergency back-up child care or a listening ear, having someone nearby to rely on can save you from many stressful moments.
If you’re postpartum:
Join our community to get connected to parents. We’d love to hear your questions and help you find the right resources (quickly!) so you can get back to spending time with your family or kicking butt at work.
Biggest hurdle month 5?
This is a big adjustment month. You might be wondering if this challenging 4-week stretch reflects what it’ll be like to be a working parent long-term. You might not be feeling settled or comfortable with your routine, but if you love your job, give yourself a bit more time to adjust. Don’t worry, you will find a rhythm over the next few months. If you’re on the fence about the work you do, use this time to think through the next steps you’d need to take to make your work meaningful enough to spend so much time away from your child.
How to Survive the 4th Trimester Without Losing Your Mind: Month 1, Month 2, Month 3
The Best Way to Navigate Your 5th Trimester Postpartum: Month 4, Month 5, Month 6