Motherly Collective

For 15 years, I’ve worked in consulting, strategy and operations for large healthcare organizations. A large part of what I do is gathering data and evidence to achieve various business goals—to secure funds to invest in underserved areas, streamline internal processes to make things easier for teams and improve customer satisfaction.

I started collecting new data about my daughter from the day she was born. The hospital gave my husband and me a log where we tracked her first days of life, like feeding times, sleep and diaper changes.

I documented a lot more data throughout her first year of life. I tracked her day care attendance. I used apps to log newborn data and visits to the pediatrician. I also tracked my own fitness and wellness activities.

It wasn’t until I analyzed that first year of data that I truly appreciated the level of effort required to raise a baby. The numbers were eye-opening. It made sense why so many new parents, especially working parents, are burned out. It highlighted how our systems—employers, governments, and healthcare—have failed to provide new parents the support they need after having a baby.

Analyzing the data

Finding #1: Being a new parent is a full-time job

Caring for a newborn requires significant time, energy and attention. We become new parents without any formal training, yet are expected to become quick experts in feeding, swaddling and helping babies reach developmental milestones like sitting up and rolling over.

But just how much time does taking care of a newborn actually involve? Unsurprisingly, a lot.

In the first month alone, my husband and I spent nearly 60 hours a week on caregiving tasks. For her first 3 months, our daughter required hourly attention. Frequent feedings led to more diaper changes. Her sleep patterns were unpredictable, so we had to soothe her around the clock. On top of this, she visited her pediatrician regularly for well visits in her first year.

Even after our baby started sleeping through the night at 3 months, we dedicated more than 20 hours a week on caregiving. When she started daycare at 9 months, caregiving dropped to about 8 hours a week.

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This doesn’t include the time we spent researching, buying and mastering new baby gear, ranging from electric breast pumps to car seats and strollers. It doesn’t include the extra visits to the pediatrician and urgent care for recurring ear infections, abnormally high fevers and a peanut allergy. And let’s not forget all the chores—cleaning bottles, dealing with diaper blowouts and staying on top of laundry. The mental load of parenthood is undeniably heavy.

Finding #2: Breastfeeding is a major adjustment, especially if you have a low milk supply

Breastfeeding turned out to be the most significant source of stress for me postpartum. While I was incredibly grateful I could breastfeed and bond with my baby in that way, I had no idea how much it would impact my daily life and overall mental well-being.

My daily routine revolved around feeding and pumping schedules. I sacrificed sleep for late-night feedings. Because I exclusively breastfed, I was under immense pressure to produce enough milk each day. I had to plan in advance anytime I wanted to hang out with a friend for more than 3 hours. Spilling a bottle of freshly expressed milk would push me over the edge. I suffered from painful clogged milk ducts and mastitis.

I kept going for 9 months and it became even more taxing as my milk supply dipped those final months. To make sure my baby received enough milk, I had to nurse for extended periods. During the first 2 months, I spent about 23 hours a week between breastfeeding and pumping. Even after dropping nighttime feeds, this amounted to 16 hours a week, until I eventually transitioned to formula feeding.

Finding #3: Babies get far more healthcare support in their first year than new parents

Before her first birthday, our daughter had eight well visits with her pediatrician. They closely monitored her growth, development and overall health. In her first month, she also had 5 appointments with a lactation specialist until her weight stabilized.

I felt well-supported during pregnancy and had 12 routine prenatal visits with my OB-GYN. But after birth, I only had one visit six weeks postpartum. Fortunately, my pregnancy and delivery were uncomplicated, making it a routine checkup. My OB-GYN checked my vitals, performed a physical exam, asked a few questions about my mental health and cleared me for sex.

My husband didn’t have any visits with his primary care physician during the entire first year after our baby was born.

Our healthcare system prioritizes the baby’s health despite the fact that one in every five moms (and one in every 10 dads) suffer from a perinatal mood and health disorder.

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Finding #4: Babies get sick (a lot) in their first year, especially if they are in daycare

My daughter started daycare at eight months old.

There are so many benefits to childcare—it allowed me and my husband to fully focus on our jobs, regain some personal time and played a crucial role in our daughter’s social and emotional development.

But what caught us off guard were the frequent sick days and how disruptive they were to our work schedules. In her first month of enrollment alone, our daughter missed seven out of 21 days of daycare due to fever. The interruptions persisted, and over her first five months of daycare, she missed a total of 18 days (roughly 1 out of every 5 days).

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Finding #5: Self-care and wellness take a serious hit for new parents

Health and wellness have always been a huge part of my life. Before becoming a mom, I enjoyed a full eight hours of sleep each night, exercised regularly, ate a clean diet and took care of my mental wellbeing. I knew these aspects of my life would take a major hit as I transitioned to motherhood.

During the first two months after our baby’s arrival, I slept a total of four to five a night (non-continuously) because she needed to be fed every two to three hours. Thankfully, my sleep patterns normalized when she started sleeping through the night at 11 weeks.

I also scaled back significantly on exercise. After having a baby, I had limited time and energy. It was also painful to run or get back on the bike since I suffered from a second-degree tear from childbirth. Consequently, I had to shift to low-impact exercises like yoga and meditation. Exercising for 30 minutes a week felt like a win.

Finally, I felt the toll on my mental health. I started to burn out from juggling the new demands of motherhood after I returned to work. I didn’t feel present for my daughter, husband or myself. Things only improved when I made the decision to leave my job at nine months postpartum.

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A year of transformation

My first year postpartum was a period of significant change. Becoming a new parent is the greatest gift of my life and it turned out to be the biggest role transition I’ve ever experienced.

My health and wellness took a dip initially, but certain things helped me regain my self-care routine and settle into motherhood on my own terms.

The biggest change I made was leaving my job when my baby was 9 months old. I worked full-time for over 15 years, but taking a career break was the only way I could reclaim the time and mental space I needed to focus on myself.

I also sought help from a pelvic floor physical therapist with the goal of being able to run continuously for 3 miles again. She taught me exercises and stretches that gradually rebuilt my pelvic floor and surrounding muscles. After three months of work, I finally achieved my goal and could run again.

Perhaps the most valuable investment I made for my well-being was seeking direct support for my mental health. I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression, but I wasn’t feeling like my usual self either. I was constantly exhausted. I experienced heightened levels of anxiety and was easily irritated. I carried a sense of guilt for not doing enough.

At eight weeks postpartum, I joined a peer support group. I connected with other new moms who faced similar challenges, which made me feel less alone in my struggles. My husband and I met with our couples therapist to navigate the new challenges of parenthood and strengthen our relationship. I also worked with a life coach to help me process my transition to motherhood, reevaluate my priorities (including my job) and be more intentional about shaping the life I wanted moving forward.

I recognize I’m privileged to take a career break and access these resources. But these changes made all the difference in helping me become the confident and resilient mother I’ve always aspired to be.

Everyone’s postpartum experience is different, but one thing is clear: it’s hard work. The journey becomes even more tough when you’re working full-time and lack the necessary support and resources. It’s physically impossible to juggle everything during that first year with a baby.

Taking a closer look at the data from that first year made me realize just how much effort goes into this life-changing transition. It also revealed the shortcomings in our systems in the US—healthcare, government and employers—in adequately supporting new moms and parents during this major time of transition. My experience is just one data point. But we all have a role to play. We need to share our individual experiences and challenges widely. We need to demand more support from our governments, employers, and healthcare systems in order to make real, sustainable improvements.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.