New Mother Has to Go Back to Work Too Soon

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I just had a baby two months ago. I’ve been off work under the Family Leave Act until now and would like to take the remaining 4 or 5 weeks. But, unfortunately, we really need my salary to make ends meet. The prospect of leaving my baby (my husband needs to work full-time too) is making me miserable. I’m feeling like a terrible mother and I have no idea what I can do to feel better about this situation.

A: You may find this hard to believe (I certainly did), but the United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world without a paid family leave policy. Combine that with a tough economy and the social pressure many new moms feel to go back to work, and it’s no wonder that the average maternity leave is only 10 weeks. It’s even harder to believe (but true), that about 16 percent of new mothers taken between one and four weeks of leave, and a third don’t take leave at all, rushing back to work as soon as they’re physically able. That’s according to the latest data from HRSA (the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

I’m sure some of those new moms are happy to be working again, but I’m betting that a lot more are, like you, miserable, beating themselves up for being bad mothers, and wishing they could quit their job. You’re not in an easy spot, but here are a few ideas that should help:

Talk—and listen. A lot of couples in your situation tiptoe around the elephant in the room: money (or the lack of it). You and your husband have to buck that trend and start talking about finding a reasonable (and fiscally responsible) way of making sure that everyone’s needs are met, or that they’re at least taken into consideration. That means listening to each other carefully and respectfully and acknowledging the pressures that each of you face.

Get your childcare situation in order. Fear that the baby won’t be adequately cared for is what many new mothers—and fathers—find most unsettling about going back to work. Since you need your husband’s income as well as your own, make finding a trusted childcare provider a top priority.

Relieve some of the pressure. Most couples, regardless of how enlightened and egalitarian they want to be, end up slipping into “traditional” roles after becoming parents. And because women put so much pressure on themselves to be good mothers, you may try to do more around the house than you can handle. Don’t. If your husband can’t take on any more, you can either hire someone to help out (which, given your financial issues, doesn’t sound very realistic) or learn to relax your standards. Does the house really need to be immaculate? Also, be sure to schedule some couple time or “me” time. A few hours alone with your husband—even if it’s just renting a video and snuggling up on the couch—will really help.

Spend more time with the baby. Since you and your husband will be working, you’re both going to miss your baby and you’re both going to want to spend time with him from the moment you walk in the door. Negotiate first dibs with your husband—especially if you’re still nursing: your breasts may be ready to explode by the time you get home and you’ll need the baby to do what babies do

My Baby Doesn’t Like Me

Dear Mr. Dad: My two-month-old baby doesn’t like me. He’s perfectly content with my wife, but when I try to hold him, he gets upset and cries. I’ve backed off a little, thinking that he just needs a little time to get used to me, but that doesn’t seem to be working. I’m starting to think I’m just not a very good dad. Is it too late for me to build a relationship with my baby?

A: There’s not much in this world that can make a grown up man feel more incompetent than a baby can. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to get past those feelings—and no, it’s not too late. Not even close.

Before we get into the what-to-do part, we need to do something about the way you’re thinking. First, get the idea that your baby doesn’t like you or that he thinks you’re a bad father out of your head. Do you really believe that someone who’s a few months old is qualified to make a judgment about your parenting skills? What other dads could he possibly be comparing you to?
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Bumping Into Breastfeeding

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is breastfeeding our new baby and when I look at them, they’re so connected and I feel completely useless. I try to do other stuff like baths and diaper changing, but feeding seems so much more important. One of my projects was to set up the nursery. I got the crib and changing table all set up and my wife told me we needed crib bumpers so the baby wouldn’t bang her head on the slats of the crib. A friend told me that crib bumpers are a bad idea. So I’ve got two questions: What can I do to feel less useless when my wife is breastfeeding? And should I get bumpers for the baby’s crib?

A: Let’s start with the second one. For readers who don’t already know, crib bumpers are soft pads that run along the inside of the crib and are designed to do exactly what your wife says: keep the baby from running into the slats or bars and getting hurt. Bumpers sound like a great idea, and millions of people—including me—have used them for decades. But new research shows that bumpers could actually be more dangerous than the injuries they’re trying to protect against.
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Will You Please Get a Room? Please?

Dear Mr. Dad: We have two boys, ages four and nine. The nine-year-old has no problem sleeping in his own bed, but the four-year-old constantly wants to sleep with my husband and me. I don’t mind an occasional “sleep over”–especially when my husband is away on business and the bed seems so empty. But lately, my son wants to be in our bed every night. That seems a little old to me. Is co-sleeping with a four-year-old okay?

A: I wish I could give you a definitive Yes or No, but the real answer is the completely unsatisfying “It depends.” There’s a lot of controversy out there about co-sleepng (or “the family bed” or “bed sharing” or whatever else you want to call it). Some authorities, such as the Children’s Health Network and the American Academy of Pediatrics say the practice is dangerous and they point to studies that show that the incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is higher when babies share a bed with parents. Others say that sharing a bed is fine, and they point to the fact that something like 80 percent of the world’s families practice co-sleeping. Unfortunatley, neither of those answers applies to your situation: At four, your son is far too old for you to worry about SIDS. And, like it or not, about 80 percen of the world’s families live in much, much smaller spaces than we do in the U.S., and the option for famiy members to sleep in separate rooms isn’t even on their radar.
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Sign Language for Babies

I’ve been hearing a lot about teaching children sign language. What’s the deal? Supposedly baby signing teaches the child to communicate. But can’t my child communicate in other ways? Is teaching my baby to communicate while she is so young pushing her too hard? Is it worth doing or is it some kind of scam?

A few decades ago, researchers began to notice that children whose parents were hearing impaired and who taught their children to sign, were able to communicate before they were nine months old. Children with two hearing parents don’t usually have much to say until after their first birthday. If you think about it, using the hands to communicate makes a lot of sense. After all, babies have a lot more control over their fingers and hands than they do over their tongue and mouth.
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Communicating With Your Spouse

Ever since our baby was born, it seems like my wife and I are growing apart from each other. We hardly even talk anymore. She’s a stay-at-home mom, and I work a lot. We used to be great at communication, talking to each other about our days, discussing our child and what she is learning. I’m afraid our relationship isn’t as strong as it used to be. What happened?

Nearly all new parents experience a drop in the quality of their communication. Half the time it’s permanent. Here are some of the factors that researchers have found contribute to this decline in couples’ communication skills:
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