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Ask Dr. Sears: Mom's at Work, Dad's at Home

Q. It has been six weeks since I delivered a beautiful baby girl, and unfortunately -- due to unexpected circumstances -- I find myself back at work while the baby stays home with her father. I'm afraid she won't bond with me and I'm feeling jealous of their relationship. How should I handle this in the best interest of the child?

A.
Your feelings are shared by the many moms who find themselves in similar situations. Naturally, you miss spending time with your baby, but you shouldn't worry that she will not know you as her mother. You will always be one of the two most important people in her life. And there are benefits of your baby growing up well bonded to her dad: Since her dad will be an important role model in her life, this will translate into more meaningful male relationships later on. Some day your future son-in-law will hug you for this.

Here are some ways you can stay connected with your baby even while working:

Keep your baby in mind at the office. Surround yourself with mementos of your baby while at work, such as photos and even make tape recordings of her cute little sounds. It's normal and healthy to daydream about your baby, even while at work. All working moms do this. Just let your mind wander over these happy thoughts as much as you can. Also, phone your baby at least once during the day for a minute of mother talk and baby babble. Encourage your husband to point to pictures of you during the day with frequent reminders that "Mommy's coming home soon!" Even babies as young as yours can look forward to a parent coming home.

Strengthen the connection when you're together. Try to practice the three "Baby B's" of bonding:

 

  • Breastfeeding: If you breastfed your baby when you were at home full-time, it's even more important to continue this when you go back to work. Breastfeeding is a special relationship only you can do, and baby will look forward to it. Pumping, storing, and transporting your milk while at work can serve as another reminder of your baby.

     

  • Babywearing: In our pediatric practice when a mother tells us she is going back to work soon, we give her a course in how to wear her baby in a baby sling. As soon as you come home from work, enjoy a happy reunion. Either take a relaxing walk while wearing your baby or simply nestle up in a chair for a little high-touch bonding time. I remember when I used to walk through the door, and our baby, Matthew, would crawl over to where the baby sling was hanging and utter "go," which was my signal to wear him around a while.

     

  • Bed close to your baby at night: Put your baby to sleep in your bed or in a crib right next to your bed. This allows you to reconnect at night and make up for the day's missed touch time. If babies could talk, I'm sure this would be one of their first requests. In fact, in our practice we prepare working mothers to expect their baby to wake up more at night because they missed mommy during the day. Sleeping close together will help you get more sleep, and still allows some extra contact for your baby.

    The one "Baby B" we discourage for all parents, especially mothers returning to work, is baby training. I am referring to assigning your baby a rigid sleep schedule "letting her cry it out." Insensitive baby training is likely only to cause a distance to develop between mother and baby, rather than increase the bonding.

    Don't worry that your baby will not know you as well as she does her dad. She will love you and need you both -- just differently. Moms and dads provide different styles of nurturing. And babies thrive on this difference. While I was still a young infant, my mother was a single mom and needed to return to work. My caregivers were my grandparents. To this day, I still remember my mother doing the best she could in less-than-ideal circumstances. As a parent, you can't plan for every circumstance. Just do the best you can and make the most of those precious hours you have together.

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