By Morgan Michalowski, CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC
For all the families hobbling through those first few months back at work feeling lonely, tired, guilty, and unsure of themselves: You deserve more.
We owe you more.
I hope this series of posts will give you the information and support you need to make the best of this incredibly demanding time.
You somehow get up in the mornings and get you and your littles looking presentable.
You make breakfast, pack lunches, breastfeed/pump/bottle-feed your little one, and do it ALL before feeding yourself.
Simultaneously, you prepare yourself for whatever tasks are waiting for you when you arrive at work.
You have meetings, pediatrician appointments, sick kids, a baby who only wants to be held by you, and conference calls.
Not to mention fielding snarky comments when you say you “absolutely have to leave at 5 p.m.”
You have a day job and an at-home job, which is often harder and more demanding. You cook dinner, spend a few precious moments playing with your kids, and smile while you try not to feel sad about the moments you missed.
You hold it all together, not letting a ball drop, because that’s what you’re told to do. Work like you don’t have kids and raise children like you don’t work.
You deserve every bit of credit for doing an impossible job, no matter how much help you have, whether you stay at home, work from home, or go to work outside of your house.
Every time we talk openly and honestly about what it’s like navigating home, kids, work, and self-care, we make strides towards normalizing life for parents.
People constantly ask, “How do you do it all?” and the truth is that most of us don’t; we need help and support from people who love us to create balance in our lives.
But we also go above and beyond to make sure we’re available to our partners, our kids, our friends, our families, our colleagues, and even our communities. And we do it all the time, even while we’re navigating the postpartum period.
In this post, we take a look at the challenges specific to your 6th month postpartum. It’s around this time that many resources start to taper off, leaving new moms feeling abandoned and confused at a crucial turning point.
Read on to find out what you can expect, and how you can cope!
(Women really can do it all, but it doesn’t mean we have to. Drop some balls, mama!)
Your 5th trimester: month 6 postpartum, A.K.A. “Settling In”
By this point in your postpartum journey, you may feel like you’re finally settling into some routines as a mother. Hallelujah, am I right?!? But even though some activities are becoming second nature, others still trip you up and new challenges appear. Let’s talk about why.
After months of mental fog, your “thinking” brain is activated to help read your baby’s cues. Upside: you know your baby better than anyone by now! Downside: who else can know your baby as well as you? You may find yourself doubting or mistrusting others when it comes to caring for your little one.
While all these changes can feel overwhelming in the moment, what you’re going through makes you a great multitasker, attuned to those around you, and better at regulating your emotions. Noticing and naming all of this helps you find real benefit in these challenging hormonal shifts.
You’re a ninja who happens to need a bit of flexibility for several months. Own it!
Your body isn’t quite the same as it was before baby arrived, but FINALLY finding a new normal. This can be a great feeling, but know your limits. Don’t push yourself too hard too quickly. How much time do you need to work out to feel healthy and strong? How much time do you need alone to feel refreshed? If you’re physically burned out, tired, or overwhelmed, everyone suffers. Taking care of your body and mind is a gift to all.
Your home and work :
Although working or maintaining a life outside your family is a huge juggling act that creates its own unique stressors, carving out space to work (or prioritize hobbies or activities that are important to you) teaches your children important lessons about life: How to do work they find meaningful, how to maintain independence when there’s pressure to cave to the demands of others, and how to contribute to society. Making yourself a role model is hard, but meaningful.
When you’re feeling like it’s all too much, consider compartmentalizing and asking for help. It’s important to be a professional and a good parent; it’s important to be present in both roles, but that’s a lot of pressure. Instead of stressing about failing someone all of the time, establish some boundaries. Make sure your boss and colleagues understand that you cannot be on-call 24-7, and when you’re out of the office you’re OUT. And make sure your family knows that your career is important to you, so there will be times you need them to step in with the baby and let you sit in on a conference call.
When you are with your child, try putting your cell phone in the other room and step away from the computer. Don’t let the work world invade your family time.
When you’re at work, close all of your Internet browsers and put your cell phone away until you need it for something work-related. Ask your childcare provider to only contact you in emergencies and decide with your partner who gets notified first for various situations. Share the load! And don’t force yourself to multitask! It doesn’t feel very good physically or emotionally (as shown by research out of the University of California), and can blur some much-needed boundaries.
Around 4-9 months babies fall into a *slightly* more predictable routine and baby’s growth slows *just a tad.* (Don’t get too excited: there’s still loads of unpredictability!)
At six months, your baby’s growth will slow to around 1 pound per month, and height gain will also slow to a half-inch each month.
Your baby might be pulling herself up, crawling, or exploring new ways to get around the house. It might be time for some household baby-proofing!
Your baby might start sleeping longer stretches at night, but many don’t. If you’re ready to nudge your baby along, you can explore gentle options to help her get longer stretches of unbroken sleep. Or you can take your baby’s lead and let it unfold naturally. There’s no right or wrong answer, only what works for your family.
What you can do:
If you’re pregnant:
Reach out to a few moms with babies around this age. Ask about their biggest hurdles, surprises, and something they wish they had known. Find actionable tips; things you can plan for or implement with some ease when you’re at this stage.
Gravida tip: As you explore childcare options, find 2 childcare providers you trust and like, and hire them early! You never know if one will fall through; having two you trust provides you with a back-up or a great referral system if they both happen to fall through.
If you’re postpartum:
Are you having a hard time, feeling like you can’t handle it all? If you find that you’re ruminating on all the things you can’t get done or how often you feel like you’re “failing,” outside support from a mental health therapist can help you put this stage of life into perspective. You don’t have to tough it out alone! Try a virtual therapist with TalkSpace or a meditation app for parents called Expectful.
Biggest hurdle in month 6?
Feeling like you need to do it all, not drop any balls, and be a pro both at home and at work. I promise, you’re not failing if there are dishes in the sink, laundry piling up, or unanswered emails piling up. Ask for help when you need it, and remember that you’re still adjusting!