New moms face a multitude of adjustments and one of the greatest challenges, transitioning back to work post-baby, was recently documented by Irene S. Levine, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine on March 19 in Science, an international journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The research was geared toward understanding the "mommy-mind" of scientists headed back to work after maternity leave, normally three months; however the concerns apply to all new moms struggling with career and motherhood.
Here are the six issues, uncovered by Levine in email communication with mom-scientists:
Not physically or emotionally ready to return
"The date is fixed on the calendar, like a jarring alarm clock. Whether parental leave is paid or unpaid, it's available for a finite period. The end may come before mom is ready to return," said Levine.
"It felt like a huge hole in me every time I left in the morning," wrote Jesse Meiller, an ecotoxicologist working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, DC. "I felt guilty for sure, but mainly very sad and empty every time I left my daughter. I began to resent work. ... It was way too early to start back at three months for me."
Levine explained, "as a result of dramatic drops in hormone levels and lifestyle changes, up to 10% of women may find themselves mildly or even severely depressed at times during the first year after childbirth. Work-enforced separation can make it worse, or at least harder to deal with."
Not focus she needs to be her best at work
Concentration and focus are compromised due to lack of sleep and because women are adjusting to the work routine and thinking of their baby instead of the tasks at hand.
Adjusting to new childcare arrangements
Part of the problem in getting back into the work groove is worrying about the baby. It is essential to have a reliable, 'worry-free', cost-effective childcare option for a smoother back-to-work transition.
"If one wants to express milk while at work, one must get the supplies and prepare them every day, find a place at work where this can be done - requiring women to do this in a bathroom is gross - and find a schedule that doesn't interfere with meetings or, harder yet, experiments," shared Amanda Lewis, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology at Washington University in St. Louis.
Struggle to achieve balance
Even the most organized moms are suddenly faced with last-minute work events and family responsibilities, Levine expressed, "a sense of balance has to be worked on continuously, day by day and sometimes hour by hour. Many women say they need to be more disciplined in managing their time than ever before."
Afraid of the 'mommy track'
"Although women have to place their families first in a child's early months and years, that doesn't make their careers any less important. They're left reeling if they suspect they're being mommy-tracked - that is, taken off the fast track to success - before they have a chance to recover," said Levine.
"Mind Matters: Back to Work After a Baby": http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2010_03_19/caredit.a1000029