Burnout is real, says the World Health Organization (and mothers everywhere)

If we want to prevent maternal burnout at work and at home we have to start talking honestly about the stress we are facing.

Burnout is real, says the World Health Organization (and mothers everywhere)

You've heard of it and you've probably felt it yourself: Burning out at your job is as unpleasant as it sounds, and now the World Health Organization is calling attention to something that happens to so many mothers.

This week, the WHO made it clear that burnout isn't just a buzzword but a medical condition by listing it as "a syndrome... resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."

The new definition appears in the latest update to the International Classification of Diseases handbook and gives legitimacy to a problem that surveys suggest is impacting as many as 40% of American workers and can have serious consequences not just for those suffering from it, but those around them.


According to the World Health Organization, burnout results in the following:

1) "Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion"

2) "Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job"

3) "Reduced professional efficacy"

Work-life imbalance, unpredictable schedules, hostile work environments and perceiving your potential for professional growth as limited are all contributors to burnout, and are all factors that impact mothers.

Working moms spend a lot of time trying to limit the conflict between work life and family life in a culture that often demands work weeks of upwards of 50 hours but also expects mothers to spend more time with their children than previous generations did. And sexual harassment, discrimination against mothers and the so-called "motherhood penalty" are also stressors for many mothers.

We're burnt out, and not just at work.

The WHO stresses that its definition of burnout "refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life," but we do know that parents who do unpaid work full-time are also susceptible to another kind of burnout, parental burnout.

A 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, found that close to 13% of parents are burned out, and like the professional kind of burnout, parental burnout leaves us exhausted, unsatisfied, and can have a negative impact on the people around us.

So how can moms avoid parental and/or professional burnout?

While self-care is important, it is not a solution to the very serious problem of burnout. Suggestions like bubble baths and manicures are patronizing band-aids that may help a burned out mother feel better for a few minutes but do nothing to take the heat off the beneath-the-surface simmering that is constantly threatening to boil over. Her energy is evaporating faster than she can replenish it. Her mental, physical and financial resources are tapped out.

The mom in the midst of burnout doesn't need to practice self-care, she needs to be cared for and about.

Parental burnout is different from perinatal depression and professional burnout is different from being depressed or disliking your job. Burnout isn't a mood disorder, it's a reaction to being overburdened and unsupported by society.

Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey found 85% of moms don't think society understands or supports them. That's up from 74% last year. Things aren't getting better for moms right now, they're getting worse. Indeed, American mothers may be the most stressed mothers in the western world.

If we want to prevent maternal burnout at work and at home we have to start talking honestly about the stress we are facing.

It's 2019, but our survey found that when it comes to household chores, 61% of millennial moms are carrying most of that responsibility with little help from their partners. Surveys suggest that dads want to be doing more, but feel they can't, in part because of work pressures and a workplace culture that penalizes men for taking parental leave. This means that fathers are happier at home than moms are, but also don't feel as confident when it comes to parenting.

We need to talk about how work culture is hurting dads, and how that in turn hurts moms. When fathers can have more work-life balance and shoulder more of their partner's mental load, everyone will benefit. And everyone will benefit from family-friendly policies that millennial moms are looking for from employers.

Our State of Motherhood survey found that mothers want paid maternity leave and on-site childcare or childcare subsidies (21%), followed by flexible schedules or and remote work opportunities. They believe these things would increase their quality of life and they are right.

Research suggests that paid parental leave, shorter work days and flexible work arrangements aren't just good for moms—they're good for employees in general and result in a healthier, more efficient workforce.

This is cold comfort if you are working in an office where long work weeks and midnight emails are the norm, but know that you can get help. Take a mental health day or a sick day if you can, and see your doctor and/or a therapist before making any rash decisions. Consider talking to your manager or HR, if possible. With the WHO recognizing that burnout is the result of unmanaged workplace stress, smart employers will want to take steps to manage stress, and even smarter ones will end up with great employees whose burnout went unaddressed elsewhere.

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After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.


Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

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Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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