How to Work from Home with a Baby: What I’ve Learned So Far
Learning how to work from home with a baby is an ongoing process.
I had my son in August and thought I was reasonably prepared for how much having a baby would turn my world upside down. I was not. There is no amount of books or blogs or Pinterest posts that could have really prepared me for how much sleep I wouldn’t get or how loud that little dude can scream, or how often the screaming would happen.
But as he and I are figuring out how to coexist, I’m also discovering how to work from home with a baby. Since remote work seems to be here to stay for most companies, here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that might be helpful to other parents.
Rule #1: Take an Actual Leave
I once heard the process of childbirth described as such: “Giving birth is like being in a car accident, but instead of getting nursed back to health, you’re going to be the primary caretaker of someone who is totally dependent on you and has also been in a car accident.”
This resonated with me on some levels because the miracle of life can be traumatic and the human body needs some time to recover. In no world should any new parent think it’s a good idea to go back to work right after having a child.
If you can swing it, take at least a month or two. Maybe three. You’re already a superhuman for what you’ve gone through, and whatever project can wait a little longer. Prepare for your leave by delegating tasks to your team so that they can help stay on top of things until you’re back in the office.
Take this time and bond with your kid and figure out how to live together and get comfortable and then worry about work.
Be Upfront with Your Job When You Work from Home with a Baby
Okay, it’s your first day trying to work from home with a baby. It is extremely normal to feel overwhelmed by responsibilities. There’s a project due for a client in an hour but your child is fussy and screaming and just wants to be held and you feel completely overloaded and this is—and this cannot be overstated—normal.
Let your employer know that you have a lot on your plate and don’t be afraid to speak up if you need help or a reduced workload. Striking a balance between being a new parent and being part of your team at work takes some time, and the truth is that you’re not going to be able to handle everything right away and that is okay.
In the best scenarios, this conversation with your supervisor will be ongoing. Check in with your managers and HR to manage everyone’s expectations, including your own. No one expects a brand new parent who is working from home with an infant to be able to do as much as someone without an infant.
Ask for Help
This one has been tricky for me because we’re so often taught that asking for help is weakness. But asking for others’ assistance when you have a lot of work to do and a fussy baby who demands your attention is absolutely necessary. You will need the support of others to work from home with a baby.
If you have a supportive partner who can help while you work from home with a baby, find a child-watching schedule that works for both of you. If there’s a friend you can call who will entertain your child while you work on that big report for a few hours, call them. If you need to hire a babysitter or a nanny to help, do it. Whatever support you need, even if it’s just with dishes or laundry, ask for it, because it will not fall from the sky otherwise.
If you need help at work, talk to your manager and your team about spreading out the workload and managing deadlines. Do not expect to be some kind of machine that gets everything done while the baby naps because, trust me, you have no idea when that baby will nap or for how long. Be reasonable and understand that you are likely going to have to ease into work, rather than jump in with both feet.
Accept that you might not be able to do it all right away. Laundry might not get done. Dishes might pile up. Your house might temporarily become a strange maze of baby bouncers and pacifiers. You might schlep around your house in a robe and slippers while you adjust to your new normal and this is both fine and normal. You have a lot on your plate. If help is offered, accept it; if it isn’t offered, ask for it.
Additionally, postpartum depression is an extremely real and common thing. One in nine new mothers may suffer from it. Common symptoms of postpartum depression, or PPD, include:
- Feeling shame, guilt, or like a failure
- Severe mood swings
- Having little interest in things you normally enjoy
- Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Trouble bonding with your baby
- Thinking about harming yourself or your baby
PPD can make it hard to care for yourself and for your baby. Contact your doctor right away if any of these symptoms present themselves.
Work When The Baby Sleeps
I find that I am extremely productive when my son is napping because I never know just how long he’ll stay asleep. So from the moment I’m sure that he’s passed out, I get to work on any number of projects that need to be completed and I find that I have never worked so fast in my whole life.
This might get you in the habit of focusing on the tasks at hand and working quickly, whether it’s housework or office work. And this skill will only help you in the future when your sweet infant can run away from you, and you have to keep a much closer eye on him.
Putting Work Apps on Your Mobile Device May Help
New babies need to eat all the time, which means a sizable chunk of your day will be devoted to some aspect of feeding. This could be pumping, breast feeding, mixing formula, or cleaning and sanitizing bottles. Whichever way you feed your child, you’ll inevitably be camped on the couch or recliner with a kid in your lap and a phone or tablet in your hand for a fair amount of time.
If you’re looking to maximize your productivity during this time, put essential work apps on your device if this helps you stay connected. You may not be able to complete a major project this way, but you can stay in touch with your team on Slack, keep tabs on assignments in Asana, or start a Google Doc or email that you can finish when you get back to your desk.
How Do I Work from Home with a Baby? I Keep Learning
Remote work appears to be here to stay, which means that many new parents who return to the office will do so virtually with their baby nearby. Learning how to balance childcare and work is not something that happens overnight, and there’s a lot of trial and error. Keep at it and find what works best for you. My advice above is based on what I’ve found to be helpful, but other solutions might work even better for you.
And remember: Even if you feel overwhelmed, know that no matter what you are the best parent your kid could ever ask for.