Being a working mom returning from maternity leave can be one of the most challenging phases of motherhood. You're faced with major decisions, logistical changes, and the emotional weight of leaving your baby in someone else's care.
On top of this, you have to figure out the complexities of breastfeeding, pumping, and planning your baby's meals. It's undoubtedly a lot to manage. However, rest assured, many working moms go through this phase, and with time and practice, it becomes more manageable. Also, don’t forget it’s a temporary period, and both you and your baby will soon adapt to a new routine that works for you both!
Separation Anxiety for Moms & Babies
Emotionally, both you and your baby may experience separation anxiety. Leaving your child with a caregiver for extended periods can be accompanied by feelings of guilt and worry. It’s important to acknowledge these emotions as a natural part of the process and give yourself the grace to work through them.
Setting the Foundation for Healthy Eating
It is during the early years of your baby's life when the foundation for their healthy eating habits is established. Ensuring your baby's nutrition is a top priority, even when you can't be present for their meals.
Remember this advice irrespective of whether you’re a working parent or not. The quality of your baby's meals matters more than the quantity. Focus on providing food rich in calories, fat, iron, calcium, protein, and essential nutrients.
Now let’s look at some tips for parents to navigate this phase.
How to Prepare for the Transition
Before diving into the transition of managing your baby's meals while working, you could consider these steps:
1) Train your caregiver: Decide who will be responsible for your baby's meals in your absence, whether it's a nanny, a grandparent, or another caregiver. Then, train them in your chosen feeding approach, whether it's baby-led, spoon-led, or a combination of both.
Encourage the caregiver to follow responsive feeding (explain what it means in simple terms), so they can follow the baby’s hunger and fullness cues. These concepts may not be familiar to grandparents. Before entrusting mealtime responsibilities to a nanny or grandparent, you can feed your baby using your chosen approach. This is a good learning opportunity for the caregiver to observe. You can even explain the philosophy and your reasons for choosing this feeding method. If possible, give step-by-step instructions they can refer to in your absence
If it’s possible in your schedule, handle meal times for your baby for a few weeks before handing it over to the caregiver. This will allow the caregiver to clear their doubts and give sufficient time for both caregiver and baby to adjust to the new mealtime setting.
2) Establish a routine: Babies and toddlers thrive on the predictability of routines. Maintaining a daily routine helps create a sense of order and normalcy in your baby's day. It's good for the entire family and caregivers to get accustomed to this routine, making mealtimes and nap times more predictable for your baby.
Ideally, begin implementing this routine a few weeks before you return to work. Involve grandparents or the nanny in this process while you're still present to practice and fine-tune the routine.
3) Consider a mid-week start: If it’s possible, when it’s time for you to start work, choose a midweek day like Wednesday. This way, you can avoid the “Monday blues'” and the initial pressure of the workweek. Also, when you start work mid-week, the weekend is nearer, and a shorter workweek can help you deal with separation anxiety.
The key is to find a way to ease into your work routine gradually. Communicate with your employer to explore flexible options, especially during your first month back.
Some Tips for Managing Your Baby's Meals
When managing your baby's meals once you’re back to work, try some of these tips:
1) Set a weekly menu
- Begin by creating a weekly menu plan to reduce daily decision-making.
- Include your baby's meals in the family menu to avoid planning separate ones. With minor modifications to the dishes, babies can enjoy the same meals as the rest of the family. [Click here for a previous article on how to modify family meals for your baby.]
- Compile a Recipe Master List with favorite dishes for all mealtimes, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Each weekend, choose from this list for the upcoming week's menu, considering your work schedule and commitments.
- Opt for one-pot meals, like millet khichdi or vegetable and meat pulao, which are ideal for busy parents. (Click here to see our suggested weekly menu plans for inspiration!)
- Try to fix the breakfast menu for specific days of the week, such as poha on Mondays, oatmeal on Tuesdays, and eggs on Wednesdays. This structured approach simplifies meal planning, providing you with more control and mental space for other essential decisions. It also helps others who are involved in the meal preparation.
Here's a template you can try for Menu Planning:
2) Shop online or with a list
Once you have a menu plan in place, make an exhaustive shopping list for the week's meals. If you choose to shop online or via an app, it will save you time and energy. If you prefer physical shopping, go with a properly defined list so you don’t meander through the aisles. Being organized during your shopping expeditions makes the process much quicker!
3) Prep your meals
Consider doing meal preps once a week, preferably on the weekend. During this time, you can either partially or fully cook various meals. This allows you to put together homemade and nutritious meals for your family in the week. It not only introduces variety into your meals but also reduces the cooking time on busy weekdays.
Here are some smart meal preps that can be done in advance:
- Try baking healthy muffins or cookies using flours like ragi, jowar, bajra, or amaranth, on the weekend, which can be a convenient snack or quick breakfast.
- Soak and cook pulses like chickpeas, mung beans, or kidney beans, and refrigerate them in airtight containers. Take them out during the week and use them in sabzis, pulaos, chillas, or parathas. These are good ways to add iron and protein to your baby’s meals.
- Prepare masala pastes, like ginger garlic or onion tomato, and freeze them in ice-cube trays for easy access. Take out as much as you need when you’re cooking during the week.
- Make idli and dosa batters over the weekend or use ready-made ones so you can whip up uttapam, dosa, or idli for weekday meals.
- Opt for versatile ingredients that can serve multiple purposes in various recipes throughout the week. For example, if you boil and store chickpeas, you can use them to prepare chole curry on one day, make hummus as a dip or spread on another, or even mash them with potatoes to create tikkis or cutlets. Boiled lentils can be used to make dal one day and dal paratha on another. You can also incorporate boiled, mashed lentils as a base for pasta or in chilla batter.
- Consider one-pot meals, which are time-saving and efficient! You can try balanced options like dal-rice-veggies khichdi with a touch of ghee or oats-ragi porridge with fruits. One-pot meals not only save time and energy but also minimize food wastage and reduce the number of dishes to clean up.
- Prepare snacks like date coconut balls or dry fruit ladoos in advance.
- Boil and shred meats like chicken for quick additions to various dishes during the week.
- Make kebabs or cutlets, and refrigerate or freeze them for later use.
The Most Important Tip!
Know that you don't have to “do it all.” Sometimes, people, including yourself, might expect you to be the perfect mom who works, cooks, and makes everything from scratch. But in today's busy world, it's not possible or realistic, unless you have help.
Do not feel guilty or pressured. Instead, set reasonable expectations that fit your life. Remember, no one understands your situation like you do. Others might give advice, but only you know what's doable for you.
In times like these, you can trust a few good baby food brands that make nutritious, junk-free ready-to-eat or easy-to-make meals and snacks for your baby. These can save you time and reduce your stress. You can mix these with homemade meals for a good balance.
And don't forget to take care of yourself. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep, and do things that make you happy. It's okay to take a break from your baby or family without feeling guilty. Parenting can be overwhelming, and some space can help your mental health. Your well-being affects your baby's well-being, so taking care of yourself is important. You're doing great!