Veterinary practice Family Work-life balance Child care
Top tips for returning to work after a baby
We asked our veterinary colleagues for their tips on making the transition back to veterinary practice after having a baby. We had a great response with lots of really useful and reassuring information for anyone looking to take that step back into the workplace. These honest, individual responses shared from our colleagues experience prove that there are no rules, everyone is different and that with the right childcare you can make it work so that it’s beneficial for you and your baby.
Tanya: You will be fine. Few days in and you will be back up to speed. It is great to have an adult conversation and work with people who actually do as you ask. You get to stay sane and your child gets to socialise with other kids. If it works for puppies! As a mum you will have loads of guilt trips about working but my kids have grown up happy and confident and I remind them that my earnings pay for some of the special treats. It was hard work qualifying keep using your skills. Your kids will be proud when they tell class mates that their mum is a vet.
Eilidh: Mine refused bottles so went on hunger strike all day, and fed more at night instead. Which was totally fine in many ways – a lovely way to reconnect and I just took them into bed with me so they could operate on a self-service basis while I slept. Also I had an epiphany when I finally realised that I was never going to have everything sorted – that feeling of having it all under control seems really elusive until one day you cotton on that you will never again have everything all under control and winging it is now how your life is going to be. Now I’m at peace with that, everything is SO much better! You will make it work, one way or another.
Lizzy: I made sure I had a nursery I was really happy with. We have no family living near to help with child care. Both my children did some trial days at the nursery so they were familiar (but to be honest they were 6 months old so I think it was more for my benefit than theirs!). My daughter was bottle fed (breastfeeding traumas early on) and had been having solid food for 6 weeks or so. The nursery took a list of what she ate, but also introduced her to some new things too.
I knew my start date to work with my son, so engineered his feeds to just on 2 breastfeeds 1st thing in the morning and last thing at night with bottles in between. I didn’t express; I didn’t have enough milk hence the bottles and with a 2 year old it was too much! He was a food-a-holic so solid food not a problem. I feel they both benefited from time at nursery as they were playing and socialising with other kids from very early. Kids are designed to mix with lots of other kids, not just be at home with one adult.
When I was on maternity I went to lots of baby groups, but it’s not the same as them messing with goop and finger-painting with other littlies. The nursery staff were great and as they are trained to the job were less fussed about mess and having the painting etc done “properly” than I was! I was ready to go back and talk to grown-ups, do the job I’m trained to do, then come home for cuddles. Don’t get me wrong, its hard work juggling kids and work. I was lucky with a very understanding boss, but equally I try to not have too much disruption to my working hours.
The baby days at nursery are actually the easiest as a working mum; it gets much harder when they reach school ages and need picking up at 3pm, taking to clubs and activities, homework and eons of school holidays! Nursery is consistent, reliable, and available for the normal working day and they both had a great time. I did also work weekends, and had family help with child care, which meant the kids have both had a lot of grandparent contact time which is good for both parties. I think going back to work was good for me too; personally I would have gone stir crazy staying at home! I also had in mind that I won’t be caring for little kids forever; I wanted to keep my career ticking over so I have something when they no longer need me. Lizzy Whiting and get a big diary to write everything down because your short term memory falls out with the baby!
Alexandra: I went back to work 12 weeks after my son was born. People thought (still think) I was crazy but it worked for me and my family. Without it I firmly believe I would have slipped into post-natal depression, partly because I needed adult company as people have said, but also because I thrive on routine but I’m terrible at enforcing routine on myself. We used the shared parental leave scheme to set up a system whereby my husband and I alternated weeks of work and childcare so I knew that my son was being looked after by someone who was just as qualified as me to do the job! At about 10 months he started going to a childminder one day a week (good to socialise with other children as people have said) and I dropped down to a part time contract.
I breastfed exclusively for as long as I could manage. My health visitor suggested early weaning from I think 17 weeks (can’t remember, sorry) given our circumstances so that was what we did. At a certain stage, again I can’t remember exactly how many weeks; he started having one bottle of formula a day when he was with my husband because husband was finding it difficult to manage the expressed milk. I hated it because I’d worked so hard to keep going with feeding and put a lot of pressure on myself but ultimately I know that formula isn’t toxic and it hasn’t done him any harm.
The downside of our one week on, one week off system was that I had to work really hard to maintain my supply because I was away from the baby for quite extended periods. As far as the practicalities of expressing are concerned, it’s not particularly fun and it’s definitely not glamorous but then neither is squeezing anal glands and we all do that! I’m lucky that our main hospital has a bedsit for the night nurses which I used for privacy. At the branches I just shut myself into the consult room which actually worked quite well because the receptionists knew what I was doing and left me to it. On the odd occasion they walked in on me it didn’t matter because breastfeeding top down, scrub top up is actually very discreet and also they’re all mums themselves so they were sympathetic. Although it sounds kind of weird, I learnt to hold the pump (electric double pump, worth the investment if you’re using it regularly) with my left hand and type with my right which meant I could keep working and didn’t have to feel guilty about taking extra breaks. I had to take more frequent, shorter breaks but I’ve actually found that works well from a work point of view.
I’m lucky that my boss and colleagues are very supportive and as long as I pull my weight and the work gets done they pretty much let me organise my day myself. That definitely wouldn’t have been the case at some other places I’ve worked.
I would also say to look out for other people who’ve been there before you. None of the other vets at our practice have kids but a lot of the nurses and receptionists do and their advice and /or listening ears can be so helpful when everything seems to be getting too much. Also, because of way our rota works (day off after a night on call) I found on call really useful to give me a “free” day off. Basically I think it’s all about figuring out what works for you.
Jolene: Doing kit days before I went back really helped me; I felt like I was still in the loop and had some idea of what was going on. I found that the closer I got to my return day I got the more anxious and nervous about leaving my baby I got, scared of all the things I might miss but in actual fact it was lovely to go back and be part of an adult team again and the time I had with my son became something I really looked forward to and made the most of it. Although I returned full time and took all my paid maternity leave. Depending on your childcare option make sure you are 100% happy before going back with any nursery or childminder you choose. Means you are not at work worrying if they are ok!
Laura: Use kit days to your benefit to get up to speed and test out your childcare. Make certain you have good childcare you trust so you can relax while your child is there. If you can return part time it will make things easier. Benefits – adult conversation, lunch without having to feed a small person (even if is rushed). If you work on call though try to negotiate your way out of this or to reducing it as I found this hard, especially with 2nd as neither of my kids were sleeping.
Jodie: Give yourself time to get back in the flow of everyday tasks and practice life. If you need to pump for comfort then ensure you are given the opportunity to do this. Make sure the little one has a chance to adjust to whoever will be taking care of them to help reduce stress and worry for yourself. It will be fine!
Alison: With regards to feeding- I got my little one used to taking expressed milk from a bottle before going back to work and had a bit of a frozen stash at home. I pumped once or twice during the day (plenty of spare batteries as I ended up doing it in various car parks etc…) and as soon as I got home- expected to be feeding for a while! Take a spare top and pads in case you have any leaks We co- sleep to maximise the sleep I get and my little one helps herself at night. (She’s almost 12 months and still being breastfed). Pack your pump etc the night before so it’s ready to go in the morning. Be open and direct about what you need to successfully continue feeding- I think some employers just don’t understand that you need to pump and it needs to be factored into your day somehow.
My other tips are:
– going back is not as bad as you think if you get the right support
– online shopping is wonderful instead of going to the supermarket
– batch cook and freeze meals whenever you can
– enjoy time with baby when you get home and forget about work
– who cares about housework?! It will wait
– have a bottle (or two) of prosecco ready to congratulate yourself on managing to juggle work and motherhood!
Tina: You will be fine. Better than you could possibly imagine. Plan ahead with childcare so they get used to it. Be prepared to be have the odd day knackered at work.
Claire: If you’re wanting to continue to breastfeed remember to drink enough water. I found my milk supply dropped on returning to work when my first baby was 6 months old. Sure it was because I forgot to drink!
Here’s another great resource for equine vets: https://www.beva.org.uk/Home/Careers/Mumsvet
Do you have any tips to add? We would love to hear about them – you can comment here or on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/veterinarywoman/