After living in total symbiosis with the mother for nine months, a child experiences his or her first separation at birth. The child experiences a second separation when the mother goes back to work after maternity leave. “There is a short adjustment time for both the child and the mother, explains Dr. Roberta De Luca, pediatrician and head of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Hôpital de La Tour. But you can easily get through this pivotal moment.”
Implement progressive changes
The baby's age when the mother goes back to work partially determines how the baby will react. Around 9 months, babies tend to become fearful when they encounter people they don't know. If the family is planning to use childcare outside the home, like a childcare center, it is best to go gradually: first one half-day per week, then two, and so forth, so that the child has time to get used to the new environment.
Pediatrician Roberta de Luca explains: “It all depends on the child's personality and how the family is organized.” Some babies find it easier to separate from their mothers than others, depending on whether or not she delegates care duties to her partner, for example.
Several possible reactions
The reactions we may expect from the child, although not all children display them, of course: some temporary sleep disturbances and sometimes resistance to feeding. “Even if the baby was sleeping well up until then, he may have difficulty falling asleep. The reason is simple: the baby hasn’t seen his mother all day and wants to spend time with her,” the pediatrician says.
As for any resistance to feeding, it is the child’s way of expressing her displeasure with being separated from her mother. She may, for example, refuse a bottle she would normally take. “To remedy this, we advise mothers to gradually wean their babies, starting 15 to 20 days before returning to work.” Specialists in pediatrics and neonatology recommend continuing to breastfeed, since it is beneficial for immune protection and maintains a strong emotional bond between the mother and child. Gradual weaning is suggested, at the mother's request, when her job does not allow her to express milk or go to the childcare center to breastfeed her child.
Options discussed when the baby is delivered
At Hôpital de La Tour, preparation for returning to work is discussed as soon as the baby is born. “Only a third of families today get their child into a childcare center. For the others, it is necessary to find a nanny or get help from grandparents. During a consultation, we discuss what options parents have depending on their particular situation,” pediatrician Roberta De Luca continues. “It is essential to make a plan: a happy family is necessary for the child to grow up in an environment favorable to his or her development.”