The price of being a working mom

Motherhood penalty? Heard of it? Lived through it? Apparently it is the loss new mothers encounter at the workplace for the time off with their little ones in the form of reduced earnings, trainings or promotions. But to what extent does this balance off with the social gains one makes for being a mother?

From my limited experience with working mothers, the most challenging thing most of them share is the lack of work-family balance and the guilt that usually comes with it. To succeed in motherhood and career building requires massive time investments. But your time is finite.

It thus becomes a delicate balancing act to achieve optimal success as a mother and a career person. It is not just being a biological mother who hands over the baby to house helps but also a nurturer, spending sufficient time with the baby. On the same beat, it is also not just about being a professional who just shows up in the office waiting for the clock to tick you home and bring with it a paycheck. It is about innovative engagements and problem solving initiatives. Achieving these two is simple said than done. But it is worthy the trial, precisely because the satisfaction of bringing up a family while being economically independent is the ultimate measure of success.

Securing a reliable support system around you in both the workplace and family-space is vital. This allows you to give your best while at home, you can give full attention to your family and while at the workplace, you can execute your duties diligently. Try not to bring your work home or family related issues to the office.

As with all social balances, be smartlook for ways around the workplace which can give you more time with your family. For example, negotiate with your office to have a day off by working extra hours for the remaining days, or take calls in the traffic instead of at home, cook over the weekend, dedicate a family time every week, etc.

Every decision comes with an associated opportunity cost and you can not avoid making a choice between the two mutually exclusive alternatives.

However, don’t feel guilty for dedicating time to something you value. Motherhood should be recognized as an achievement in life not a setback on your career.

This first appeared on The Standard on February 26, 2017

O sleep, where art thou?

You can breastfeed, cook and make calls as well as go for a short call simultaneously (yes, you can. I have done that) but one thing you cannot do with a newborn is get enough sleep. Much as newborns are said to sleep for long hours, their sleep patterns are so haphazard that as the parent you have to keep vigil all through.

You find yourself waking up every other hour to change the diaper or feed the baby and help them burp. (Burp! that is another story altogether). Before you go back to sleep, they are up again.This in effect spins a new mum’s sleep pattern, which just a few weeks ago was long, deep and abundant. What is not easily observable though is how this affects your very wellness as a mum.

When you are sleep deprived, you are the most dreadful person to be around with. You are extremely tired, lacking concentration, very grumpy and moody, forgetting which breast you last fed your baby with or you forget to put it back in your bra (if you happen to be wearing one). You might even dislike that beautiful baby in your hands for a few seconds, who is giving you the ‘Mommy, I have a beautiful idea! Let us swim to India’ look at 3:07am. In short, you are miserable.

There is lack of sleep and there is sleep deprivation. The later happens when you have four or five nights of broken sleep which for a mother of a newborn is the way of life for months. Since caffeine and sleeping pills are unthinkable at this stage here are simple things you can do until they are able to sleep for longer hours, which means you too.

Sleep when your baby sleeps

During the day – Yes, the house is a mess and you have to reply to all those messages but all that can wait. Please sleep. If you are back to work from maternity leave, try squeezing time from your busy schedule to nap even if for a few minutes after lunch.

During the night –  try taking a glass of warm milk to help you go back to sleep after feeding baby. A few drops of lavender oil on your pillow can also help to relax you.

Try relaxing exercises

A simple stretching exercise for a few minutes will do miracles to your system and energize your body. You can even take a walk or dance with your baby as they enjoy the movement too.

Ask for help

You cannot take care of your baby if you are not fit. Accidents can happen when you are feeling drowsy. Don’t be shy to ask for help be it from your busy husband, relatives or friends. Try to have a me-time for a few minutes either in the bath or on the bed when your baby is with someone else.

(This first appeared on The Standard on July 31, 2016)

What I wish I knew before I had my baby

I think if I was to prepare for everything in life like I prepared for my child, I would be a very successful person. The unknown world of parenting was scary that I read and read and asked around until my mind could handle. But if I could meet myself a few months ago, I would tell her these.

You don’t need a lot of baby stuff especially clothes

The word ‘receiving blanket’ has become a family joke in our house because I kept on nagging my husband that we do not have a receiving blanket yet and the baby is due any minute. Little did I know that was already in the house, four to be exact. Kids outgrow clothes fast and all those cute clothes you see in the stores, you don’t need to buy. Keep things basic. The bed, stroller, bouncer, play mats… are also not things you will need right away.

Having a baby will change you and your relationship with your partner

Running an errand will not be a simple task anymore so will every outing. It will require planning. You will find yourself putting your child ahead of everything and thinking through things. And all those sweet times you spent alone with your partner will be on hold for a while until you get used to parenting and learn to dedicate time to yourselves. It will change how you look at each other and it is upto you to make that change for the better.

Every child is different

Don’t worry if your child is not hitting milestones like other children his/her agemates or even your other children. Every child is different and will grow in his/her own pace.

The first three months will be tough

You will be sleep deprived, cranky, tired, leaking fluids from everywhere but it will all be alright.

You need a mommy friend

Someone who has gone through this process comes in handy. Then you can call at an ungodly hour and ask if the color of your baby’s poop is normal or if the yellow spit up is just milk. (Thank you Jane!)

This first appeared in The Standard on 11 September 2016

Lipase enzyme

A few weeks ago, I tried bottle feeding my daughter the milk I had expressed for the first time. She did not refuse it but she was not enthusiastic about it either. I was curious because I knew she was hungry. Therefore, I tasted the milk myself and it tasted and smelled like spit up milk. I thought that packet must have gone bad and opened a recently expressed milk which ended up being the same way. I was devastated looking at the stash I had in my freezer and started researching online. I found out that I might be suffering from excess lipase in my milk. Let me save your curiosity.

What is Lipase Enzyme?

Lipase is an enzyme that breaks down dietary fats into smaller molecules called fatty acids and glycerol. In another term it simply helps your child digest your milk. Some mothers have excess lipase in their milk which makes the milk taste and smell bad after sometime. Milk with excess lipase is safe to drink as long as your child is okay with it. But some will not like the taste.

What can you do?

There is a process called scalding the milk, which deactivates lipase from breaking down the fats  faster. Once you have expressed your milk,  scald the milk immediately, which is to heat the milk until you see bubbles forming on the corners of your container but not boiling. Then you quickly let it cool and freeze until use. This process will affect the nutritional value of the milk but if your child breastfeeds often it will not be a problem.

Disclaimer*

Before making this conclusion, make sure your milk storage containers are sterilized and your freezer is working well. I am not a medical professional, only sharing my experience. Since there are other reasons to milk smelling off, consider visiting a doctor.

 This first appeared in The Standard on 23 October 2016

Myth or truth?

Advises come in plenty when you become a mother. Our mothers, aunties, older sisters, friends, neighbors…have ample experience in raising us and will gladly offer their experience whether you like it or not. Some of them might be helpful but some are just myths with no scientific proofs. Here are few common myths about babies I came across.

Blow on the soft spot when the baby chokes

I have been told to do this several times. The soft spot, has a thin membrane that covers the brain. Whatever you are blowing will not be able to go past that. Even if you do it is in no way connected to the soft spot. What you should do is turn the baby over  and tap on the back slowly so the airway will clear.

Use breast milk to treat an ear infection

Breast milk has antibodies and serves as a solution to many problems your baby might have. But it serves its purpose well when swallowed.  Applying breast milk in the ear will create more infection because of the sugar it has, which creates conducive environment for the bacteria. Ear infection is a serious problem that will need a doctor’s visit to be treated.

Give water when a baby has hiccups/constipation

Hiccups are caused by contractions in the diaphragm. And constipation can be the result of the mother’s diet or the formula the baby is taking. You should not give water for a baby less than 6 months old. Their system is not mature enough to extricate water. Breast milk or formula is enough to keep the baby hydrated.

It is always good to think twice and do your own research before applying any advice given to you.

This first appeared in The Standard on 2 October 2016

First International travel with your baby

Planning your travel has been more or less easy before your baby came along. But now that your bundle of joy is around that book you carry to kill time in the plane will be left behind because your hands will be full. If you are among the lucky parents, your child will sleep at the most important part of the trip, which is the transit or checking in, but if not, you are in for an awkward surprise.

Here are some tips that can help.

  • Plan your trip well ahead – you do not have the luxury of being spontaneous anymore. Planning ahead of time gives you the chance to choose comfortable seats on the plane, prepare the things you need for the trip
  • Bring a baby carrier/stroller – Unless you were in a circus, you cannot carry your baby, diaper bag and suitcases at the same time. Using a baby carrier will free your hands and will help you maneuver airport terminals.
  • Pack light but a lot of diapers – packing light will help you create space for your diapers as well as for all the souvenirs you might come back with. If you are sure that you will get your diaper choice at your destination, less on the diapers.
  • Don’t feel bad in going ahead on queues –  this is one privilege travelling with a baby will give you. Weather it is on the checking in counter or immigration counter, go ahead of the queue, most people understand.
  • Pack a travel friendly changing mat- airport wash rooms might not always be clean. You can use your own to avoid putting your baby down on a surface you are not comfortable with.

Do Infants Need Yellow Fever Vaccination?

Infants aged yellow fever vaccine, which is a live virus vaccine. It is not recommended for infants aged 6 – 8 months, except during epidemics when the risk of yellow fever virus transmission may be very high.

This first appeared on The Standard on 25 December 2016

Getting back in Shape

From the time our body prepares for carrying a baby all the way to the time we give birth and afterwards, it goes through a lot of transformation which is overwhelming.  Our system builds up a reserve weight that will be useful to both you and the baby. Unfortunately, this accumulated fat is not an easy thing to get rid of. Here are some tips to help you get back in shape.

Have a positive body image

You just gave birth and that is not an easy task. Feel proud of the beautiful squishy body that brought life to this world a few months ago. Give yourself some credit.

Start exercising

Start with walking in the house with your baby. Don’t think of going to the gym or running at first. Get used to you body moving for a few minutes everyday in the house. Then build up from there.

Set small achievable goals

Fitting into your pre-pregnancy jeans should not be your first goal. Your body did not accumulate all the fat over night, it took months. Hence, give your body time to get back to its previous state.

Sleep Well

Resting well gives us energy to refresh our system and prepare for more rigorous activities of raising a baby which will help in burning the added weight.

Breastfeed

Breastfeeding helps burn at least 300-500 calories a day. That is a very healthy way of loosing weight.

Start eating healthy

If you were not paying attention to what you were eating before, now is the time to start. Most of what is mentioned above will not work if you do not eat healthy. Aim for making vegetables part of your daily intake.

Giving birth to a human being is not a simple task. Even if you don’t get back to your pre-baby shape, have a healthy life style and be comfortable with your body.

This first appeared in The Standard on 18 September 2016

Separation anxiety

Once your child is old enough to know who is who in her/his life, leaving the house without them, especially the mother will not be the same. Even when you are out of sight they panic and throw a tantrum. Though it feels good to know that they trust you and have grown attached to you, seeing them crying every time you leave can be stressful. It is perfectly normal and most children go through this stage but the following tips can help in making your goodbyes easier.

  • Help them get used to other caregivers – if you are about to go back to work or you have a new house help, start practicing ahead of time. First leave them with another person they know for a few minutes, and then build on that.
  • Do not say your goodbyes when they are sleepy or hungry – let us face it, sleep and hunger make children cranky even with you there. Therefore, time your departure after they are well fed and rested.
  • Always say goodbye – don’t sneak out -Having a simple goodbye routine, which can be a hug and kiss, can settle their anxiety through time and assure them that you will be back.
  • Be consistent – often times it is the parent who suffers from separation anxiety more than the child. Coming back to check on them after saying goodbye or changing your mind when you see them crying will not help the situation.
  • Keep your promises – ‘I will come back once you finish counting up to 10.’ ‘If you don’t cry, I will bring you sweets when I come back.’ We have heard so many of these false promises from our mothers when we were children. This creates trust issues in the long run. It is better to teach your child honesty from a very young age.

 

If all these tips do not help to settle your child through time, pay attention to their behavior and other details when they are to be left with other people.

This first appeared in The Standard on 23 October 2016

Postpartum depression

PPD usually happens within the first few months of having a baby. It is a very common problem and many mothers suffer the mild depression for a few days after giving birth but 15 to 20% of mothers experience severe PPD that might require medical attention.

This first appeared in The Standard on 30 October 2016

As much as it is difficult to hear that a mother can harm her child, we hear that news at least once every year. This unfortunate situation happens for so many reasons but severe Postpartum Depression (PPD) is the most common.

PPD usually happens within the first few months of having a baby. It is a very common problem and many mothers suffer the mild depression for a few days after giving birth but 15 to 20% of mothers experience severe PPD that might require medical attention. Previous depression history or stressful situations such as financial problem or lack of support can be some of the reasons behind PPD.

Here are some symptoms of PPD

  • Sleep and appetite disturbance
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby – lack of interest in caring for the baby
  • Mood swings – easily agitated and angry
  • Crying for no reason
  • Feeling anxious about everything
  • Sadness and guiltiness for feeling this way
  • Having thoughts of harming yourself or the baby –  suicidal thoughts

As a mother with PPD it is hard to be excited about your new baby while others around you are and might even feel guilty for not feeling as such. Hence, you will be reluctant to share your feelings with people who expect you to be joyful. This will lead to more problems when it is left untreated. That is why partners and close family members need to pay attention and help them seek the necessary help. PPD is a common problem and it is treatable. If you or another mother you know have been feeling this way for more than a week, seek medical help immediately.

1 http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/p/postpartum_depression/stats-country.htm

Night weaning

The decision to wean your child from night time feeding depends on you. Whether you will do it at month 6 or age 2, consider the following tips.

This first appeared in The Standard on 12 February 2017

Whoever said ‘sleep like a baby’ must not be a mother. Sleeping for long hours is a luxury for months or years as babies wake up to feed every few hours. Your baby, most likely, will not be affected for years since they take naps during the day but that can be quite challenging for a working mother.

The decision to wean your child from night time feeding depends on you. Whether you will do it at month 6 or age 2, consider the following tips.

Consider the time – most babies will have a predictable sleeping pattern by month 4 which can be interrupted due to teething, illness or a growth spurt. They can also sleep for long hours without being hungry. Start the weaning a set of time that your child is comfortable enough to sleep on her own.

Make them content – make sure that your child is feed well during the day. You should also have them take naps to avoid overtiredness. Offering longer feeding (without distraction) before bed can also help in keeping them full for long hours.

Go Slow – rushing to introduce such big change in your little one’s sleeping pattern can backfire. So, take it slow and start by making small changes such as soothing and prolonging the time between feedings by an hour.

Choose a method – the way to night weaning is not cut out for everyone. Babies can be inconsolable when you refuse to feed them as they are used to. The cry it out method, where you let them cry themselves to sleep, is not for the soft heart. While singing and soothing is another option. Choose the method that best suits you and your baby. If all your tries fail, try a few days later but don’t be frustrated as it is a stage that will pass soon.