Since I'd been planning on being a work-at-home mama long before I was even pregnant, you'd think I would have done my research. But unlike reading up on cloth diapers or natural child birth, it never even occured to me to think about how I was going to balance working and staying at home with an infant. After all, babies sleep, right? And being a work-at-home mom is so common it's usually abbreviated as WAHM, so how hard could it be?
I didn't really think about the logistics of any of it until my son was 5 weeks old and I knew I needed to think about working again. Naturally, I turned to Google. And I was surprised, and a little worried, to find that my quest for information on "how to be a work at home mom with an infant" turned up nothing of use. There was plenty on being a work-at-home mom of preschool and school age children, but there's a big difference between trying to work from home with children that are out of the house in an educational setting for at least a few hours every day and trying to work from home with a child that requires constant supervision during waking hours. I was a little freaked out (am I the only person on the face of the earth crazy enough to attempt this?), but I didn't have much of a choice except to dive in and figure it out.
So I've found myself making it up as I go along, which really isn't too different from any other aspect of parenting. I have found some things I would have done differently, and some things that work for us. I wanted to share them; hopefully the next mama to Google "how to work at home with a baby" won't be so discouraged.
Plan for a long maternity leave. Initially, I planned to return to work when my son was 6 weeks old. This seemed like a long enough leave to me, and without going into a long discussion on maternity leave practices in this country, I felt like I could handle working from home by that point if other women could manage to be back in an office. In reality, my son was 5 weeks old and I felt like I barely had my head above water. How was I possibly going to start working again the next week? After discussing it with my mom (I can always count on her to give me tough love if I am actually capable of making something work) and my husband, I ended up easing back into work around the 8 week mark. Fortunately, I hadn't given any clients a hard and fast date for when I would be back (I'm sure they would have been understanding, but I'm not really a fan of changing plans), but if I had to do it over again, I would have just planned for a longer maternity leave in the first place. E was sleeping much better at 8 weeks than at 5 weeks (usually just waking up once at night versus every 3 hours) and was developing a slightly more predictable nap schedule. As you can imagine, that had a pretty big impact on my ability to tackle work. In the end, I ended up taking about 12 weeks off altogether, since I stopped working a few weeks before E was born (all I wanted to do was nap and make freezer meals).
Find your pockets of guaranteed (or as guaranteed as anything with an infant can be) work time. This will be different for every situation and family, and it might mean relying on extended family for childcare, or even hiring a mother's helper for a few hours a week. E has always been great about going to sleep at night, and I'm more of a night owl, so my main work time is 9 pm to midnight. If I'm working on a tutorial or something that requires natural sunlight for photos, I do that on the weekend when my husband is home to take over childcare duties. Yes, sometimes all I want to do is veg out in front of the tv or read a book after I'm (finally!) done parenting for the day, but knowing that I have this time to work makes life a lot less stressful. The duration of E's naps is a lot more fluid (at least in terms of his afternoon nap, which might be as long as 3 and a half hours, but is usually closer to 1 and a half to 2 hours). I find it difficult to get work done during naptime when I'm not sure exactly how much time I have, so instead I use that time to do non-work things that I can't really do when he's awake, like write this blog post, pump milk, or clean the shower. I wouldn't be opposed to hiring a mother's helper for even 2 or 3 hours a week, but I'd prefer someone that we know, so that hasn't really been an option (I'm trying to convince one of my cousins to transfer schools...). I will admit that I'm looking forward to E being old enough to attend a Mother's Day Out program (I even have a program in mind; it starts at 2 years old). It will give me a chance to work during daylight hours and him a chance to socialize with other kids.
Make work time a treat. Since putting in hours after the baby has gone to bed requires a lot of determination, it helps to make it as fun for yourself as possible. I like making a favorite snack for myself (since I'm usually hungry again by this point anyway; thank you, breast feeding)-- I love to have a couple pieces of Babybel cheese with pecan Nut Thins and some squares of dark chocolate. If you're a morning person and want to work before the baby wakes up, you could treat yourself to some really great coffee or tea. Whatever makes things a little bit easier! A beautiful workspace (maybe with some small luxuries like a yummy candle) could also be comforting and motivating.
Embrace the learning curve and create safe spots. It seems impossible when you have a 3-week-old who just kind of stares at you, or cries every time you put her down, but eventually your baby will be able to entertain themselves, even for the briefest period of time. At about 4 weeks, E was happy to lay on the floor and watch his wind-up giraffe. Even though I couldn't get any work done in between giraffe wind-ups, I could knit, and this was huge. It introduced a bit of balance back into my life, since I could do something that was just for me (while still being a responsible parent). At 3 months, E was grasping at toys, which gave him something to work on. Now, at 6 months, he's rolling over both ways, rotating himself around, and doing a backwards army crawl. We got a nice big rug for his bedroom, and lately we can hang out on the floor for 30 to 45 minutes at a time. He keeps himself entertained rolling around and taste testing all of his toys. I can check e-mail, write a grocery list, or knit. Being able to get all of that out of the way while he's awake means that I can really drill down and get stuff done once he's asleep (and I don't feel like I'm missing out on the "me time" that would typically happen after he's gone to bed). We have a few other safe spots (places where I can put him down and know he's contained and happy) around the house (infant seat, bouncer, swing, exersaucer) and they are a lifesaver. I can hand him a toy or two, and he's content to watch me prep dinner, gnaw on Sophie and laugh at our dogs.
Get into a routine. This probably falls under general parenting advice, but getting into a routine has been huge for us. I think it's easy as a stay-at-home mom to let the day control you; before you know it, it's 5 pm and you haven't changed out of pajamas. If you're not sure where to start, start with bedtime. Pick a time and a routine and stick with it. Eventually baby will come around, too, and it will make life a lot easier. Find a daytime activity to structure your day around. For us, it's Stroller Strides, which we do three mornings a week. I could gush about Stroller Strides forever, because it's awesome on many levels, but to be honest I think I love it most for giving us a routine during the week. Maybe it's coincidental, maybe it's not, but E's nap schedule regulated a lot once we started Stroller Strides. His mostly consistent nap times made it much easier to schedule doctor's appointments or plan errands like grocery shopping. Our days flow a lot smoother, and I don't feel as mentally exhausted when I sit down to do paid work at 9 pm. It's worth mentioning that routines come with time; from my understanding, many babies can be all over the place until around 4 to 6 months.
Some mamas are able to get a lot done while wearing baby in a wrap, sling or carrier. I always found it slightly awkward to move around while wearing him (possibly because I am petite and he has always been on the longer side). We do love our Pognae for trips to the store, however.
If you're a work-at-home mama, I'd love to hear your tips for making it work (at any age!).