Mama Maker: Karli from Unlisted Market

Karli’s longtime dream of owning a boutique was suddenly in reach when she found out Rachel, owner of Unlisted in South Denver, was also expecting. The two mamas-to-be eventually had their boys just 2 weeks apart.

“Once you find someone in your tribe…that bond, as most moms know, is incredibly strong because you can share all of life’s trials and tribulations,” she says.

The two had first met when Karli started selling vintage goods at Unlisted, during the final 4 years of her 15-year tenure in PR & marketing.

“I just knew in my heart that it was the right time for me to make the move to step away,” says Karli, describing how she spent her pregnancy “building my brand outside of my corporate life.”

Fast forward to 2017: Karli was running a freelance PR business, selling her wares at Unlisted and raising her 10-month-old, when Rachel approached her about becoming a partner.

“As a single business owner, she was doing it all by herself. She was literally maxed out on her time,” says Karli.

“I feel like it was such a blessing,” she says. “I always dreamed of having a brick and mortar. I didn’t know I was going to be lucky enough to find something that already existed that I could just walk in as a co-owner.”

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Karli and Rachel offer fellow dreamers “the chance to step out, try retail on their own while having their overhead taken care of, and a very competent, trustworthy staff there everyday.”

“We’re constantly asking ourselves ‘what will bring in more traffic?’ and ‘how can we help our more than 100 vendors be successful?’ however they define it,” says Karli.

Recently, this meant setting up a cafe featuring locally roasted coffee and tea in a highly trafficked booth after one of their former vendors ventured out on their own.

“This to me is the dream. This is why we do what we do,” says Karli, beaming with pride that one of their vendors had become successful enough at Unlisted to open their own store.

Women Helping Women Succeed

While the 9000+ square foot space features male and female makers alike, it works particularly well for anyone who requires a flexible schedule.

“I do think our model–in the way that doesn’t require them to work in the store–is conducive to people who are trying to balance family life and their own creative passions,” says Karli.

Among the women-led businesses featured at Unlisted are Prairie Rose and The Shabby Chandelier.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Karli takes her now almost 2-year-old son to daycare while she juggles various roles at the store, including running the cash register, stocking and doing social media.

“I learned very quickly that he will thrive and I will thrive and our family will be happier,” she says, while noting that some days are easier than others.

“I think mom guilt is so real,” she says. “You try to justify all of your decisions. And you know what? We’re all doing the very best we can with what we have at that moment. I’m not going to judge anybody who does anything different.”

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Just like she found Rachel, Karli believes that finding a tribe of “like-minded moms” who support your decisions is key.

“When you find someone who’s in that same path, it feels really, really good,” says Karli.

Mama Shaker: Dr. Sharon Somekh of Raiseology

When her oldest daughter started middle school, pediatrician Sharon Somekh decided it was time to re-orient her career around what she loved most about her profession: working with parents.

In March, she left her practice and launched Raiseology, so she could build “more meaningful relationships” with parents virtually from her home office while being an “accountability partner” for her 11-year-old.

“I help anxious parents go from feeling like a deer in headlights to feeling like they can really do this… to the point where they can stop being so anxious about the day-to-day and really enjoy what they have in front of them–which is their kids.”

“We all love our kids and want what’s best for them,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

As a mother of four daughters, ranging from 3 years and up, Sharon has personally navigated through multiple stages of working motherhood. For her, it was actually easier to get through 80 hour weeks as a resident when her first two were very young.

“One of my mentors said something to me that I’ve since told many, many moms,” says Sharon. “When your children are young is when you will feel better working more. A lot of moms think when their kids grow up, they’ll go back to work. You don’t realize that that’s when it’s hard to go back.”

She says feeling secure in your childcare arrangement and getting help are key to making it through the early years–I couldn’t agree more.

“Whether it’s emotional help, coaching help, physical help, outsourcing certain things you don’t enjoy doing at home–it will make your life much easier and it’s worth every investment in yourself to do that,” says Sharon.

Part of that support has come from moms who pitched in for preschool pick up and drop off. Her then 3-year-old started to notice and at one point told Sharon she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom when she grows up.

“Nothing hurts more than that,” she said. “But when she asked me ‘why do you work?’ I gave her a very honest answer. I think we underestimate what our kids understand and we need to have real conversations–that are age appropriate–with them.”

“Every mom has mom guilt,” she says. “They may have guilt about different things, but they still feel guilty.”

She says knowing your limitations benefits both you and your children.

“I think the example we set for our kids is really important. I like that they see that I’m a driven person and I value what I have to offer and think it’s important enough to put it out into the world.”

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

“If you’re asking how I manage four kids, I don’t,” Sharon says pointing to the independence that she’s fostered in each of her children.

She described a recent parent-teacher event where another mother she was volunteering with called her 11-year-old three times to make sure she was getting ready for school.

“I did not have a doubt in the world that my daughter was waiting for the school bus,” says Sharon.

Her 8-year-old makes her own lunch for school, and Sharon and her husband are currently training their 5-year-old to get herself dressed with the help of routines and checklists.

“It takes effort in the beginning, but it definitely has amazing payoff…and it’s great for the kids because one day they’re not going to be living in your house.”

You can learn more about Sharon’s “system of empowerment and independence” on her blog. In addition to her group program for parents of toddlers to school-age kids, she also consults parents of infants one-on-one, and she’s launching a podcast this summer.

Mama Shaker: Lori from Mindful Return

Every mom knows what its like to find herself at the brink. For Lori Mihalich-Levin, those feelings of overwhelm multiplied after her second child was born, “at that moment of desperation where one child plus one child felt like 85 children.”

“I was sitting on the kitchen floor crying many nights because I just didn’t know how I was going to hold everything together.”

“I was a wreck. It was really at that point when I realized I needed to build in some moments of intentionality,” she says.

After discovering Abundant Mama, which helps mothers focus on abundance instead of overwhelm, Lori “came out on the other side feeling so much better.”

“I had tools for focusing on gratitude and abundance, I had a community from moms all over who understood I couldn’t get the Cheerios off the kitchen floor and that was okay,” she says.

She noticed that there were programs for everything from birth plans to baby massage, but not how to plan for your maternity leave and return in a way that felt empowered, “like you weren’t going to go off the rails.”

Lori was inspired to fill this gap for new moms “who are just trying to get out the door to work.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

As a lawyer by day, Lori burned the midnight oil creating Mindful Return, a 4-week cohort-based program to help new moms plan for working motherhood, that’s flexible enough for any schedule.

“A lot of moms are in the course while they’re feeding their baby at 3 ‘o clock in the morning.”

  • Week 1 is about a mindful mindset for returning.
  • Week 2 is all about the logistics (“pumping, not pumping, putting food on your own table, negotiating flexibility, dealing with sick days, snow days and the unexpected”).
  • Week 3 is about how to view your maternity leave as a leadership opportunity (this particular topic has me intrigued!)
  • Week 4 is all about staying in a community and not isolating yourself.

“It’s so important to stay connected to other new moms and share in all the struggles.”

Lori partnered with a Mindful Return alum to create an artistic reminder of all the skills that working moms gain — something that we can never hear enough.

I spoke with another one of Lori’s students, who says she feels “more prepared, confident, and excited for this new chapter of my family’s journey.”

“As a first-time mother, the prospect of returning to work after maternity leave was both daunting and exhilarating,” says Jen. “The content of the course and the opportunity to connect with like-minded mamas going through similar experiences really helped ground me and helped me feel more prepared to re-enter the workforce.”

“I start work tomorrow and I am grateful for the community Lori created, and for the lessons learned,” she says.

Note: I’m not the only second-timer to find all this proactivity to be intriguing, after fumbling a bit the first time through.

“Some women didn’t have the best return the first time, and they want it to go better the second time.”

Mindful Return is not limited to first-time moms, or even just moms at all.

In fact, Lori recently launched a paternity leave course to help address the stigma that many dads face about asking to take time off.

“I really, truly believe that we all succeed when both men and women are engaged in the very early days of childcare and child-rearing.”

“Comparison is the thief of joy. If I’m looking around at my colleagues at 4:30 when I’m heading out of the office and thinking, ‘oh my gosh, what are they thinking of me?…”

“No, I need to worry about my plan, my life and what’s right for my family.”

Asking For It

Through the growth of Mindful Return and Lori’s family’s need for a more flexible schedule, she’s become a living example of how to create a “career portfolio” that works for you.

“I think we often have a lot more power than we think we do.”

While interviewing for a new role, Lori first presented herself as a candidate for counsel, instead of a partner (one level above), because she desired a 60 percent schedule.

“Then at some point, I said ‘no, I think I should be a partner at this law firm on a 60 percent schedule,’ and most of the firms that I was interviewing with said, ‘okay, sure, fine.'”

Her natural reaction was, “if it was going to be fine, why didn’t anyone say ‘you can be a partner’?”

“Because nobody is going to say it. If you don’t ask for something, people aren’t just going to offer it up to you,” she says.

Lori recalls another example where a mom who took her course was terrified to meet with her boss during maternity leave, to ask if she could switch to an 8-4 schedule (instead of 9-5) so she could have more time with her baby after work.

Her boss was so relieved that she wasn’t there to announce her resignation, she quickly realized she had “lost all this sleep over asking for this silly thing.”

“You never know until you ask,” says Lori.

So where to begin?

“Dare to dream about what might be possible in your world. Sit down and journal about it, exploring all your different options and trying to figure out what would be best for you,” she says.

“Then break the dream up into bite-size pieces and go after one of those pieces.”

Lori recommends starting by proposing a trial period for a flexible arrangement. In her experience, it often works out just fine.

“I attend to my legal clients’ needs whenever they happen, but I don’t have to be in one specific place at any particular, given time. So it allows for some flexibility in weaving together those two worlds,” she says.

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

Lori builds moments into her daily routine very intentionally, along with mantras like “I am enough.”

“I think ‘enoughness’ is a huge problem in new parenthood. Because there’s never enough of anything,” she says.

Every morning, evening and sometimes on the way to work, she “carves out times of pause.”

Before the kids wake up, this includes:

  • Writing in a gratitude journal
  • 10-15 minute yoga practice

Between 7:00 – 9:30 a.m it’s a typical morning:

  • Her husband makes breakfast
  • Everyone gets dressed and off to school
  • She hops on the metro to get into the office

After work:

  • At 4:30 she hops on the metro
  • She picks up her kids with her husband
  • They alternate who makes dinner
  • She has “Thomas & Friends” playtime with her kids
  • Then it’s bath and bedtime

Her evenings after the kids go to bed, include:

  • Working on Mindful Return for a couple of hours
  • Gratitude journaling
  • Meditation

“You have to be patient with yourself. Know that each incremental step matters.”

“You can really make an impact, and be a leader, and start something amazing with a lot of baby steps,” says Lori.

40 Working Mom Stories That Made 2017 Shine Brighter

2017 was undoubtedly a big year for women, and looking back it feels like working mamas are finally getting a chance to shine.

From a conference dedicated to mompreneurs in San Francisco to booming Facebook groups with 20,000+ members, there is a movement of moms leading and building businesses, and redefining corporate culture in the process.

As a working mom myself, I haven’t written as many stories about all these amazing mamas as I’d like to, so I found Twitter to be the next best way to quickly spread the word.

Here’s a recap of 40 moms, moments and would-be blog post topics I found to be particularly inspiring in 2017:

Working Mom Tales From the Road

Discovering the Working Parent Resource podcast set the year on the right foot. (Thanks Sarah for everything you’re doing to help make it easier for working parents to find their way!) Here are some of the working mom voices that inspired my morning drive time:

There’s nothing that gives a busy mama more relief than hearing a kindred spirit tell their story, which was my experience hearing Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less author Tiffany Dufu share hers on the Heroine podcast:

The Naked Truth About Working Motherhood

Getting other humans out the door in the morning is nothing to sneeze at, and Liz Petrone managed to bring humor to the madness:

While Neha Mandhani reminded us why it’s helpful to embrace imperfection…

Motherly editor Colleen Temple perfectly captured the conflicted emotions of motherhood, “to every mother who wants to give herself a hug when she checks on her sleeping children post-bedtime because today was a tough-as-nails day and now in the still of the dark night, she wonders if she was enough, did enough—I’m that mama, too.”

SWAAY captured confessions from 14 working moms, including the mompreneur behind Kindred Bravely (softest maternity/nursing bra ever!):

Why It’s Worth the Working Mama Juggle

Sometimes we need a reminder of why we’re crazy enough to try and juggle it all. Two videos captured it very nicely — one from tried and true baby food brand Happy Baby and another from DigitalMums.com which helps create flexible jobs:

Tend Lab founding CEO Amy Henderson is championing the evolution of corporate culture to better recognize and support parenthood. In addition to her spot-on quotes about the benefits of working moms in Mother, she also moderated a fantastic panel on juggling it all at the In Good Company conference:

These quotes are the closest things I’ve found to an antidote for working mom guilt. The first comes from a profile of stylish mompreneurs behind Nomad CollectiveELLIS BROOKLYNFreshly Picked Baby MoccasinsPembroke PR, and Catherine Kwong Design in Mother. The second is from the Krazy Coupon Lady who appeared on Mario Armstrong’s Never Settle Show:

Making Life Before and After Maternity Leave A Little Easier

I loved the words of maternity-benefit pioneer, Maven‘s CEO and founder, Kate Ryder, on the GirlBoss podcast discussing how to make the most of her time in the office as a new mom, “One of the first things I did when I had a kid was reduce meetings to 30 minutes.”

Author of Here’s the Plan.: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood and WeeSpring founder, Allyson Downey, is helping women educate themselves on maternity leave and returning to work after baby, as featured in Motherly:

Kim Chappell so eloquently captured the emotions of a new mom getting ready to head back to work after maternity leave, which made me want to reach through my phone and give her a reassuring hug:

Designer Sarah Sherman Samuel admits she “had no idea how I was going to feel, what I was going to take on, or how I was going to do it” once she became a working mother. She shared how she’s currently arranged childcare in a way that works for her:

A new mama who’s near and dear to the TripIt team, Natalie DiScala, wrote two great pieces for moms facing the reality of traveling for business, covering everything from nursing to childcare:

When Motherhood Inspires New Business Ideas

“Kids are the ultimate start-up.” I love this quote from the co-founder of bkr glass water bottles in Mother (which were a welcome inclusion in the spring The Zoe Report’s Box of Style along with other mompreneur-created products):

Sarah Michelle Gellar found the inspiration to start FoodStirs and step away from travel-intensive acting after she had her daughter:

Kango founder Sara Schaer set out to kick carpool chaos to the curb by launching a Lyft-like service in LA and SF, in which all the drivers are fingerprinted and background-checked:

Air Force veteran and Euphoric Herbals founder Cindy Collins started making herbal teas for her clients as a doula, around the time she had her first son. As her family grew, so did her business (from $3,200 in revenue in 2011 to more than $400,000 just five years later):

Beluga Baby wrap founder Haley Campbell launched her company four months after giving birth to her daughter. She lived to tell the tale in Motherly:

Advice from Women Who Paved the Way for Today’s Working Mamas

I’m lucky to be surrounded by inspiring women leaders at work, some of which were featured in Working Mother and Inc:

SitterCity CEO Elizabeth Harz has refined working motherhood by planning ahead and shared other tips with Working Mother on how to carve out more time and cut yourself some slack:

Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, the powerhouse literary agent behind Oprah, Sheryl Sandberg, Brene Brown and Arianna Huffington, reminded us that guilt is essentially useless:

Fashion mogul and pioneering mompreneur, Eileen Fisher, shared her one working mother regret on the How I Built This podcast:

Research that Gets it Right

It’s time for outdated research on “advanced maternal age,” “geriatric pregnancy” and my personal favorite, “elderly multigravida” to go the way of the dodo. The New York Times helped shed some light:

A study in the Atlantic followed up with 37 women who graduated together, 20 years later; the results from the  “Ambition Interviews” were both fascinating and heartbreaking. Authors Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace have written a book, The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life, which comes out in June 2018:

Working Mom Voices Are Getting Louder

Melinda Gates became a welcome and powerful voice in the gender gap discussion by highlighting how America’s workaholic culture isn’t helping moms–or anyone really. She’s not the only recognizable face bringing much needed attention to the issues facing working moms:

As a “digital” participant of the inaugural In Good Company conference, I was delighted to see these recaps (and live vicariously through them) in Vogue and the San Francisco Chronicle:

Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake made headlines when she IPO’d with her toddler in tow. I was equally interested in surfacing the day-in-the-life secrets to her success as a mompreneur:

I can’t wait to see what 2018 holds in store for working moms. In the meantime, you can count on me to keep sharing stories every chance I get!

When Working Mamas Need a Break

I’ve been hibernating. I haven’t written a blog post in two months. I just didn’t have it in me to give up any spare moments of rest. But I know I’m not alone.

Some of the most driven mamas I know — who are actively raising young children, working in corporate jobs and even building businesses on the side — find themselves needing to turn one dial down from time to time, like Sarah from Piperoos.

For Paula from Ceh Flora Gifts, caring for an aging parent comes with many curve balls. But it also puts things in perspective, and can even be a source of inspiration to change direction.

I’m learning from the mompreneurs I speak to that we all have different modes. Sometimes we’re on, sometimes we’re off. Building a career, a family and a business (or passion project) has to be at our own pace. But it’s hard to give yourself that forgiveness.

Patagonia has proven that you can keep an eye on the long game, while having ups and downs along the way:

“We didn’t know if we were going to make it or not,” said Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia on NPR’s “How I Built This,” about the period following a down turn.

“All decisions from then on were made as if we were going to be here 100 years from now. So, slowing down the growth, saying no to a lot of opportunities and just being more responsible.”

“One year we’ll grow 3 percent, another year we’ll grow 20 percent,” said Chouinard. “It’s not this smooth curve like public companies that have to grow 15 percent every year… There are two kinds of growth, one where you grow stronger and one where you grow fat.”

This philosophy comes from the same company that retains 100% of its moms by providing on-site childcare.

Have you taken time to recharge lately? I’d love to hear your story.

How Working Moms Build and Lead with Limited Time

In the age of startups, #hustle, and productivity gurus, never has so much emphasis been placed on the relationship between hours and success. Typically, this results in a frenetic work ethic that’s not sustainable for working parents and other groups that are responsible for the livelihood of family members.

It’s been five years since Anne Marie Slaughter nailed it on the head in “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” challenging “the belief that more time equals more value.” Sadly, her words still ring true: “the culture of ‘time macho’—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.”

This precedent is in direct conflict with the realities of parenting: kids get sick, daycare isn’t always available, and doctors offices have limited hours. It’s time to be more transparent about the demands on working mothers, and elevate examples of leadership and entrepreneurship that don’t lead to burnout – or workforce dropout entirely.

For this series, I’m going to focus on working moms for two reasons:

  • While there’s been a lot of debate about the gender gap, examples of how women are building or leading companies – while actively raising children – aren’t typically part of the conversation. Without these stories, young women won’t have examples to inspire their early career choices, and women who are going through the life-altering transformation of becoming mothers will too easily feel defeated.
  • As a toddler mom, I’ve become somewhat of a cultural anthropologist on this topic for the last few years. I believe working moms are in a unique position to reshape corporate leadership and dispel the myths that perpetuate cut-throat startup culture. Stories from female founders who are simultaneously building companies and families are innovative by design.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

How Do You Build or Lead with Limited Time?

I’ve been fixated on answering this question for years, starting long before I became a mom. I was intimidated by the idea of working motherhood, so I read voraciously like any type A person would. From I Don’t Know How She Does It to I Know How She Does It, and Lean In, I couldn’t guzzle down stories about working moms fast enough.

While these gateway stories were inspiring, I finally felt empowered when any notions of super mom flew out the window. By talking to other parents with the same sleep deprivation or childcare struggles, it released the pressure I was needlessly putting on myself to return to my pre-maternity leave pace.

The way Sarah Argenal from the Working Parent Resource put it into words really resonated with me: “As an overachiever in my life before kids, I was used to learning new skills and then mastering them. To put it bluntly, I was used to being good at things in my life; and one of the hardest things I had to do as a parent was realize that I was never going to be perfect at it. Our kids change all the time, and it was really disorienting to have to adapt and adjust to every new developmental stage that my child went through.”

The same can be said for how I previously spent work time. I was used to saying yes to every opportunity, traveling on a regular basis, and spreading my time across a lot of different projects and people. I had to completely rethink how I used and valued my time as a mother.

By surfacing stories about how working moms are building businesses or leading organizations, we can address “time” as a major contributor to the gender gap.

How Working Moms Make the Most of Limited Time

No matter the method, these stories – and the resources that follow – are about placing a premium on the hours you have available, rather than treating your time as a never-ending commodity. It’s also about recognizing your limits and making adjustments when you need to.

Whitney, founder of SproutFit, juggles a corporate job that requires frequent business travel, her new adjustable baby clothing start-up, and a 3-year-old: “It’s a lot of prioritizing, a lot of asking for forgiveness of friends and family members when I can’t go to events because I’m traveling, or when I need to take a me day,” says Whitney.

“My biggest thing right now is truly prioritizing, and learning what can be priority A, B and C,” she says. “Being able to communicate with my husband; with his traveling job and my traveling job, we have to make sure we’re keeping everything in check. It’s a lot of communication, a lot of priority checking and a lot of saying no.”

“I wasn’t always good at saying no,” says Whitney. “But, I’m pretty good at saying no now because it’s to protect, my family, my sanity and my future… our future.”

Sarah, founder of Piperoos, is going through “a phase where the balance of juggling Piperoos, and family and my day job has shifted in favor of family and day job.” In addition to a new role at work, she’s had to temporarily prioritize “the logistics of moving our family, and figuring out school, the new ballet class and swimming” over her environmentally conscious baby brand.

This isn’t the first time Sarah has had to rethink how she spends her time: “I struggled a huge amount after having my daughter. My identity had been so tied up in my career for so long.”

“Even if you have a really supportive spouse at home, even if you have a company that has set up structures in place that are supportive, you still end up facing a burden from a career perspective that you wouldn’t as a male in that situation,” she says.

Tips & Resources

  • Get a reality check on how many hours you have available: In the book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, there are actual calendars of working moms with leadership positions and high pressure jobs. Many of the women interviewed overestimated the actual time spent on work, which helps debunk the myth that everyone else is putting in more hours than you.
  • Figure out what your unique contribution is: Find the sweet spot between the work you’re most passionate about, what others perceive your super power to be, and your impact on the bottom line. Once you do, it becomes very clear how to prioritize your precious time and help your team stay focused. It also makes the logistics of how you get your work done less of an issue, because the value you deliver is ultimately what matters.
  • Get into alignment before tackling your most important work: This is about creating the conditions to tap into flow, which allows you to create quality without a lot of quantity (as measured by time). It’s a popular topic in podcasts like The Lively Show. Don’t be discouraged by morning rituals, which can be difficult when you’re trying to get kids out the door. As an alternative, you can pinpoint optimal pockets of uninterrupted time in the day for your most important problem-solving or creative work.
  • Cluster your hustle: As someone who works primarily from home, I arrange for one 12+ hour day per week to travel to and from the office, when extended childcare can be covered by family. I make the most of the long train commute, respond to emails while hopping from train to bus to Lyft, and then I can be fully present with my team in the office. Same goes for major customer events or conferences. The other days of the week, Zoom, Slack, texts and calls make it seamless to stay connected with my colleagues, and then I’m available for my family in the morning and evening.
  • Bring in reinforcements: There are likely many things you don’t need to be the one to do, in order to make room for the things that only you can do. In today’s sharing economy, there’s no reason you can’t preserve precious parenting time outside of work by outsourcing grocery shopping, laundry, housecleaning, your wardrobe, and more. By creating income for others, you can carve out time for you – and your family.

There’s so much more to say on this topic! If you have experiences to share, I would love for you to be part of the conversation. Please pipe in, either in the comments below, or by reaching out to me directly so we can chat.

The Working Mother’s Dilemma: What to Feed Baby

It starts when you return to work after maternity leave. How often do you pump during the workday? What do you do about business trips? How long can you keep it up?

The dilemma continues into the world of baby food jars and pouches. Which ones are the most nutritious? Which ones will my baby actually eat? Lead and BPA free? Least amount of sugar?

Pumping as a Working Mama

I made it through one month of full-time pumping and part-time work, which I was fortunate to have as a transition period, followed by full-time work and part-time pumping. That first month back started with an awkward series of pumping sessions amidst an overnight business trip that involved:

  • enough clean, spare pump parts and a portable battery pack for rushed airport mother’s lounge stops (and the sweetest Alaska Airlines lounge attendant ever)
  • runs back to my hotel room in between meetings and networking events which made me arrive late to everything
  • an incognito cooler to carry that precious cargo through TSA and all the way home
  • a poncho, the pumping mama’s wardrobe hack!

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The Long, Slow Wean

My first month back to work full-time was less motivating. I started looking out at the horizon to a 3-night business trip, which coincided with the 6-month mark, and it felt like the right time for me to start a long, slow wean. It was hard to find resources on weaning over a 4-week period, but fortunately I found a post that showed me the ropes.

I dropped one feeding at a time every few days (starting with workday pumping) until I was nursing every 12 hours (first thing in the morning; right before bed), then every 18 hours, then once a day, every other day and so on. The grand finale was one last nursing session after I returned from my work trip where I had made it three days without pumping. It was also the night before my son turned 6 months old.

I think the decision to wean is entirely personal and I admire the working mamas who keep it up through the first year and beyond. You are true warriors!

Formula for On-the-Go

Sometimes formula is the only option and I found early on that my hungry little guy needed to supplement the real thing. I did a lot of research and found Baby’s Only to be the closest to mom, with the cleanest ingredients:

Baby’s Only Organic Dairy with DHA & ARA Formula, 12.7 Ounce

However, when I figured out that there was a room temperature option, that was also portable, organic, and didn’t create a powdery mess, I made the switch to these handy pre-mixed 2-oz containers:

Similac Advance Organic Infant Baby Formula, 48 Bottles, 2-Fl Oz, Ready to Feed

I eventually discovered auto-shipments directly from the manufacturer were the most cost-effective and mom-brain proof. They were perfect for the first few months at daycare, trips to the gym, and traveling.

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The Best Baby Food Jars & Pouches

I left behind any notions of making my own baby food, despite how much I like to cook, when time became precious as a working mom. Our weekends were for rest and play; I didn’t envision myself in a baby-food making frenzy. So I searched for the closest thing I could find: jars with the purest organic ingredients.

Stage 1 favorites included:

Earth’s Best First Apples, Og, 2.50-Ounce (Pack of 12) ( Value Bulk Multi-pack)

Earths Best Organic First Beginner Food – Pear, 2.5 Ounce — 12 per case.

Stage 2 favorites included:

Earth’s Best Organic Baby Food Stage 2 Apples and Apricots — 4 oz

Earth’s Best Organic Stage 2, Corn & Butternut Squash, 4 Ounce Jar (Pack of 12)

Earth’s Best Harvest Squash Turkey Dinner (12×4 Oz)

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Then we graduated to pouches, which were even easier to feed on-the-go. Favorite pouches for stage 3, 6 months and up:

Earth’s Best Organic Stage 3, Pumpkin, Cranberry & Apple, 4.2 Ounce Pouch (Pack of 12) (Packaging May Vary)

Plum Organics Baby Food – Organic – Quinoa and Leeks with Chicken and Tarragon – Stage 3 – 6 Months and Up – 4 oz – Case of 6-95%+ Organic – Wheat Free-

Favorite toddler pouches:

Happy Tot Organic Stage 4 Super Foods, Apples & Butternut Squash + Super Chia, 4.22 Ounce (Pack of 16)

Happy Tot Organic Stage 4 Super Foods, Apples, Spinach, Peas & Broccoli + Super Chia, 4.22 oz (Pack of 16)

Happy Tot Organic Toddler Food Plus, Kale Apple & Mango, 4.22 Ounce (Pack of 16)

I’ll admit when I first started feeding solids, I was focused on ingredients and wasn’t yet thinking about sugar. Later in the toddler stage, I searched high and low for the least amount of sugar and it came down to these two.

Lowest sugar toddler pouches:

Happy Tot Organic Stage 4 Baby Food, Love My Veggies, Zucchini/Pear/Chickpeas & Kale, 4.2 Ounce (Pack of 16)

Once Upon a Farm Cold-Pressured Wild Rumpus Avocado

Safeguarding Against Contaminants (and Mom Guilt)

And then this morning, while I’m trying to enjoy a few sips of coffee in between chasing my toddler around, I hear that lead and other contaminants were detected in 20 percent of baby food. Lovely. Just what this paranoid mama bear needs to hear.

I double checked that all of the formula, jars and pouches mentioned above made a list of “clean” baby food in an independent study conducted by the Clean Label Project, and/or were verified directly with the brand (in the case of Happy Baby and Once Upon a Farm).

Avoiding overly processed, packaged foods is always a good idea for babies and adults. Also, the reality is that soil contains lead and other contaminants, so when in doubt, check to with the baby brands directly to see if they conduct testing.

When mom guilt rears its ugly head, we have to remember we do our best for each moment. Hopefully my research can give busy mamas back some time and peace of mind.

Finding a Village at the Office

I wrote this one year ago, and it’s one of the reasons why “Best for the Moment” is my working mom mantra.

There I was, standing in the back of a conference room, coffee cup in hand, holding back tears while listening to the leaders of my company speak about how hard it is to be a new parent.

I had made a special trip up to our headquarters, away from my 6-month-old, and felt like the exact message that I needed to hear in that moment had been crafted just for me.

My naivety thinking this particular business trip was merely a matter of logistics – fly up after bed time, have my husband do daycare drop off and grandma pick up – was coming back to bite me.

That first night away, I expected my son to go happily to sleep while I whizzed off in an Uber to the airport. But there were tears of protest about the interruption in our well-oiled routine. The next day he was all smiles on Facetime, but his tummy and teething bothered him later on.

My son didn’t need super mom, he just wanted his mom.

Where did this new working mama overdrive come from? Going back to work in the beginning of the year was refreshing. I cherished the early days of just me and my son spending time together, but I was ready to get back into the swing of things.

The hardest parts of returning to work were the adjustment to our new morning routine, when I frequently underestimated how long it would take to get two of us out the door, and pumping on trains, planes, in airports and hotels.

Otherwise, my first few weeks were mentally exhilarating. I felt sharp and focused, even while struggling to get a full night’s sleep during my son’s 4-month sleep regression.

That’s when I got cocky. Amidst my adrenaline rush returning to the job I love, I had fallen into the self-inflicted trap of trying to have it all.

I smoothed out the morning daycare drop offs with podcasts and lattes, and channeled my determination and focus into inspiring my team to make the most of every minute in and out of the office. I became a fan of recipe delivery boxes and experimented with subscriptions to personalized stylist picks. I double-counted gym trips as quality couple time.

I’ve always jumped at opportunities to improve myself, my health, and my career. But trying to do so while taking care of another human being is where I started to bumping into walls.

No one asked me to master every facet of my life, so why did I put so much pressure on myself?

As a new mom, it can be hard to find your compass. Where do those of us who are crazy enough to think we can have it all go to confess and commiserate?
Plenty of moms ban together around things like breastfeeding, baby-wearing or school admissions.

But for me, it’s at the office. And that’s been the biggest surprise. The same place that drives me is full of a community of moms who’ve been through the very same challenges.

So I’m learning to be more open about my struggles – even in the workplace – and I’m getting reassuring messages in return. The common theme is that no working mama can do it alone. “It takes a village” frequently rolls off the tongue, and everyone agrees that it’s trial and error until you figure out a system that works for you.

Admitting that I’m struggling at work too, is a first for me. This is incredibly humbling for someone who has never wanted to show weakness and said yes to every opportunity.

Even outside of work, I’m now trying to focus on the simple things that bring joy to me and our little family. Like making dinner and snuggling in bed on the weekends. If I can carve out time for those two favorite past times, I will consider it a huge accomplishment.

Most of all, I’m learning that to admit you can’t do it all, isn’t weak, it’s human.

Not super human. Just human.