Ask Dr. Sears: Working and Mothering
Q. My son is a month old and stays with my sister during the day because I can't afford to stay home. Will my son be able to distinguish that I am his mother, and can we still bond and love the same as a stay-at-home parent and child?
A. Even though you are away from your baby a lot during the day, he still realizes, and always will, that you are his mother. Your concern is natural since you are torn between your desire to be with your baby and your need to work outside your home. Here are some attachment tools for working and mothering. I call them the Baby B's.
Babywearing. Make quality time with your baby count. Increase "touch time" by holding your baby as much as possible. One of the Baby B's of bonding is what I call "babywearing," an attachment tool that is particularly useful for mothers who work outside the home. On days and evenings that you are with your baby, put your baby in a soft carrier and wear him while you work around the house, shop, take walks, or wherever you go. When you wear your baby, he becomes intimately involved in what you are doing. He hears what you say, sees what you see, and enjoys the rhythm of your motion. Babywearing reminds baby of the motion and closeness to you he had in the womb.
Bedding close to baby. Encouraging your baby to sleep close to you at night helps you make up for the missed touch time during the day. This nighttime attachment parenting is called co-sleeping. Work out whatever sleeping arrangement gets all family members the most sleep, such as a crib right next to your bed, a Bedside Co-sleeper (a crib-like nest that attaches safely and securely alongside your bed), or nestled safely next to you in bed. It's very common for mothers to report that their babies wake up more at night after returning to work. It seems that these babies are telling their mommies that they want to be closer to them at night to make up for the snuggle time they missed during the day.
Breastfeeding. Once upon a time, breastfeeding mothers tended to wean their babies soon after returning to work. Nowadays, the reverse is true. More and more mothers are realizing the importance of continuing to breastfeed after returning to work. There are new breast pumps that are specially designed for the working mother in mind. Employers and the workplace are becoming more breastfeeding-friendly by giving mothers time off during the day to pump and store their milk. Some working-mother-friendly corporations even have "lactation lounges" -- where mothers can comfortably pump and store their milk. Pumping milk for your baby during the day and continuing to breastfeed when you're with your baby is an attachment tool that only you can do.
Believe in baby's cries. Avoid the "cry it out" crowd. Crying is a baby's built-in attachment signal: Listen to it. When your baby cries, follow your natural maternal instinct, which is to pick up and comfort your baby. Mothers are more instinctively responsive to their baby's own cries than any other caregiver, and babies can sense this. More than any other caregiver, you -- the person who shared an umbilical cord with your baby -- is the one that is best able to read your baby's cries, intuitively knowing when to pick up and comfort and when to wait a bit.
Business from home. Consider if there are ways that you could still earn enough income, yet work part-time, or even work from home. Consider a home business, such as becoming a distributor for a home health or nutritional product. Many working mothers in our pediatric practice have discovered that a home business is the key to both financial freedom and more time with their baby.
By increasing touch time with your baby while you are with him and using the above attachment tools in the way only a mother can, your baby will grow up bonding better to you as his mother.