I recently looked in my diary and realised that it had been exactly a year since I returned to work after my maternity leave. It seems like only yesterday that I left my precious 10-month-old in the care of strangers and went back into the world of work. In the weeks leading up to my first full time day I was having nightmares with images of my baby sitting sad and alone in a place similar to those Romanian orphanages we saw on TV in the nineties. How was my tiny little baby going to cope without her mother? Absolutely fine, it turned out (who needs mummy when the nursery has a huge ball pit with a slide into it?). I, on the other hand, was completely unprepared for the challenge ahead. I quickly realised that during my time as a full time mum I had lost a very important skill: how to socialise with other adults. Adult conversation is a fine art, one which is essential to your survival at work – in my case an office. To be honest I never truly mastered it before but after almost a year spent in the company of a tiny human, I found it difficult to expand my topics of conversation beyond rubber ducks and toes.
I had to learn the hard way, but you don’t have to. Just use this handy 10 step guide I created just for you:
- When you discover that you have accidentally brought your childs Fisher Price phone instead of your own mobile, just keep quiet and turn it off before anyone notices.
- Don’t assume that your colleagues are interested in the colour, smell and consistency of your child’s poo poo. They are not. Even if it was a really firm, brown one.
- Try to think of the blob of baby breakfast on your expensive (and clean-that-morning) top as a conversation starter. Everyone loves a good anecdote, especially one that involves warm porridge being catapulted towards your unsuspecting face.
- Tone down your enthusiasm for your hot mug of coffee just slightly. The third time you caress it and tell it how lovely and hot and strong it is, and how much you have missed it, people will start to worry.
- Try to avoid singing out loud the nursery rhymes you’ve got stuck in your head. Some of the rhymes are very catchy and you really don’t want to start a Wheels on the Bus epidemic in the office.
- Don’t mention the fact that you’ve only had a proper shower once this week. Adults care about personal hygiene.
- When your colleagues tell you about Friday night at the pub, do your very best to fake disappointment that you missed out. Pretend that you would happily have traded your one free hour on the sofa for sitting in a sticky pub watching your supervisor vomiting on her own shoes.
- When you finally give in to the pressure and find yourself in that sticky pub, go all the way. Dance on the tables, take your top off, sing loudly and vomit on your supervisor’s shoes. Then maybe they will stop pestering you about going to the pub.
- Resist the temptation to show your non-parent colleagues ten new pictures of your baby every day. She may be the cutest thing that ever walked the earth, but to them – as you might remember from before you had your own – all babies look the exactly same.
- When talking to your parent-colleagues, to avoid making anyone feel guilty, defensive, judged and angry, don’t mention subjects such as birth pain relief, breastfeeding, sleep training vs. co-sleeping, baby led weaning vs, purees, vaccination…in fact just don’t talk about your children. Nothing good will come of it.
I knew I was going to breastfeed my child, from the moment I got pregnant. Why? Mainly because I am a mammal with two fully functioning mammary glands. Yes, my body can produce all the food and fluids a baby needs for at least six months. How cool is that? There’s no need to give Nestlé any of my money.
What I didn’t know was that, despite breastfeeding having helped the human race survive for thousands of years, the skill can be extremely difficult to master. The problem, in my case, was that my nipples were the wrong shape – I know this, because it’s exactly what a nurse at the hospital told me. And, in case I didn’t believe her, she flopped out her own boob as an example of what a proper nipple should look like. Perhaps this is standard NHS practice, but it came as a surprise to me.
I am not going to dwell too much on the hellish two weeks I spent crying and swearing, strapped to a breast pump and covered in baby sick; then crying some more when the expressed milk fed to the baby came back up just minutes later. Lets just say that what I thought was going to be a beautiful and natural act of a mummy mammal feeding her baby mammal turned out to be more like a battle between a misshapen nipple, a little mouth and two little hands all struggling to get to the same place at the same time. There was blood, sweat and tears. And sick. Lots of sick. Thankfully, my daughter eventually decided that enough was enough and latched on to feed like a normal baby. Of course, that didn’t mean breastfeeding was going to be easy from then on. And 22 months on I am still encountering brand new challenges I never knew existed, such as my daughter experimenting with my nipples’ elasticity to see just how far they will stretch. (very far is the result – if they weren’t misshapen before, they certainly are now). But at least I no longer have to leave the house with sick stains on my shoulder, pretending it’s a fashionable pattern on my top.
After almost two years experience I do feel like a bit of an expert, so I have put together this 5 step guide of things that would’ve helped me on my journey:
- Throw the books away. The thing about books is that they weren’t written about your baby. The books tell you about a baby who feeds every 3-4 hours (15-20 minutes pr. feed) and sleeps peacefully in between and if that doesn’t happen, your boobs are wrong. Real life babies may be attached to your boob from 4pm to 11pm every evening. And that does not mean there is anything wrong with your boobs. Your baby likes them. Very, very much.
- Put your feet up and enjoy. For the first three months you will be spending the majority of your time sitting on the sofa lactating, so you might as well make the most of it. It’s the perfect time to catch up on important daytime reality TV, such as Millionaire Matchmaker and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, accompanied by large amounts of tea and biscuits. It will almost make you forget about the loss of sensation in your buttocks.
- Take full advantage of the boob-power. Most baby sleep experts will tell you that you should NEVER feed your baby to sleep because your baby will become used to it. Baby sleep experts hate letting babies get used to anything that requires a parent to be present. I advise you to ignore them. They have books to sell, so they don’t want you to know that this is what boobs were designed to do. They can turn a screaming baby into a peacefully sleeping baby in a matter of minutes. Why on earth would you want to give that up?
- Do it in your sleep. This is a big one. Which of these two scenarios sounds more appealing: 1: Approximately one hour after going to bed, pick up baby and feed and rock her back to sleep. Put what you assume to be a fast asleep baby back in cot. Immediately pick up wide awake crying baby and start over. Repeat until you start hallucinating from the exhaustion. Or 2: Approximately one hour after going to bed, pick baby up. Put baby next to you in bed, offer your boob and fall back asleep. Leave boob out for baby to self-serve for the rest of the night. I personally prefer option 2 because it’s the one where everyone gets to sleep. Just make sure you do it safely.
- Do it in public. That is, if you like leaving the house and speaking to other adults. Despite what you might think if you have been reading the comments on any breastfeeding related Daily Mail article, most normal people really don’t mind seeing a tiny bit of a breast being used for it’s primary purpose. And if they do, it is far easier for them to turn their head 90 degrees than it is for you to convince yourself that you’ve enjoyed staying at home again watching another episode of Millionaire Matchmaker. So just get out there and get them out!
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