Are you returning to work after maternity leave? I get it mama – it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do (which is saying something because childbirth was pretty rough!)
The thought of leaving our babies with someone else is terrifying. It produces a lot of mixed feelings though, amiright??
Although it’s been some time since you held down a conversation that didn’t have to do with “mamamamama” and “cootchie” and maybe a little “poopie”, I think you’ll find that you’ve missed interacting with other adults.
After all, interacting with other adult-sized humans can actually be pretty rewarding (depending on the adult-sized human anyway). For this reason, and having been in your slippers, I wanted to give you some tips for going back to work after baby to (hopefully) make it a little less painful for you.
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1. Figure out childcare
Deciding who you’re going to leave your baby with is a hard decision – there’s no way around that. Plan for this as soon as possible and alleviate a LOT of your maternity leave anxiety.
The unknown makes us all feel a little twitchy, so eliminate this unease from your life. If you don’t have a trusted friend or family member who can take your little one, start looking at daycare centers.
Here’re a few ways to help you find the right center for you.
- Ask friends and family members who they recommend (this is the BEST way)
- Check out Facebook groups for moms in your area. Search the keyword “daycare” or “childcare” and see what pops up. Usually there are at least a few people giving and receiving recommendations.
- Look at your options on care.com
Finding a good daycare is a little outside the scope of this article, but here are a couple of things to consider.
- Check out places that have an open-door policy. Most providers are (generally) on their best behavior when they can prepare to meet you. Meeting someone when they don’t anticipate it is a great way to see what the daycare is really like.
- See if they’re state licensed. You don’t have to go with a daycare with a state license, but it will make taxes a little easier for you. A daycare doesn’t need to be licensed to be a good daycare, but it’s a little comforting knowing that a state-licensed daycare has to follow certain safety guidelines.
- Make sure the daycare has values similar to yours. If you don’t mesh well with the daycare provider, don’t leave your child there. There are different acceptable schools of thought when it comes to parenting, and your provider will be helping you raise your child. Choose carefully.
- Make sure they have safety measures in place. Baby gates? Outlet covers? It’s a huge red flag if your provider of choice does not have safety standards in place. Here are a few other considerations for you.
2. Prepare for pumping at work
Pumping is a huge hurdle when it comes to returning to work after baby. A colleague of mine had a really tough time keeping her milk in after she returned to work (and she’s not the only one!)
I will say, most businesses have a strict policy (in your favor) and even a nice secure space for pumping.
Despite this, work tends to get in the way. You find yourself buried in the tasks that seemed so important before your little babe was born, and old routines kick in.
Left to your own devices, it will be incredibly hard to break that old routine and step away for a session of pumping. You’ll need to overcome this. A steady milk supply requires consistency, hydration, and mental discipline.
If you’re a breastfeeding mama and want to continue breastfeeding, you’ll need to figure out how to navigate pumping at work. Remember – it is your RIGHT to pump at work – so don’t feel like going back to work is the end of your breastfeeding journey.
Now, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that some women do experience a drop in breastmilk supply when they go back to work, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to keep your supply.
There’s a resource for success!
Figuring out the ins and outs of pumping at work is overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for many mamas. That’s why I recommend checking out my friend Stacey’s back-to-work pumping course, where she’ll teach you everything you need to do to get prepared for this big change.
For just $19 she takes away ALL the guesswork, answers ALL the questions, and has you ready to tackle pumping at work. I wish I’d known about her class the first time around when I struggled hard with pumping at work.
3. Have a plan
I know just saying “have a plan” sounds a little general – but honestly, this is one of the MOST important things you can do to prepare to go back to work after maternity leave. Write out a play-by-play of what going back to work will look like. Consider the roadblocks (figuratively and literally) that might prevent you from maintaining your schedule.
How far is the drive to get to daycare? What time do you need to get ready to get to work on time? These are important things to look at (and remember: EVERYTHING takes longer when you have a baby to plan for).
For something like this, it can be really helpful to keep a planner (like this one!) Take the time to find something that fits in your purse and make sure you really push yourself to use it.
Beyond that, consider who else might be a player in this master scheme. Verify that they understand their role and how that role fits into the bigger picture. Whether this is a system of post-its for your significant other or a daily agenda, be sure you’re getting a clear path laid out for those who will be vital to keeping the machine rolling.
4. Talk to HR
Make a phone appointment to hash things out with the HR department or your manager.
Schedule your return to work date, get an update on any new changes at work, and figure out what space exists in which you can pump. And no – it should NOT be the staff bathroom. Some employers may be surprised that you need to pump as often as every couple of hours, so make sure this is very well understood.
If you are planning a more creative return to work – half time, fridays off, or any other combination that’s not your typical schedule – be sure to get this approved, too!
5. Don’t go back to work on a Monday
Remember wishing that every workday was Friday? Well, you might have the chance to make this a reality for a while.
Although it’s kind of natural to think you should go back to work at the beginning of your workweek, don’t. Being away from your baby is going to be tough enough, doing it five days in a row your first week back is going to be much harder.
See if your manager will allow you to start somewhere in the middle to end of your work week.
6. Return gradually or part-time
I know there are plenty of mama’s that DON’T have a choice when it comes to returning gradually or part-time, but it’s worth exploring if there’s a chance.
All of us go through that battle of wondering whether or not we should just quit our jobs forever so we can hang out with our new baby instead.
For most of us, that isn’t exactly realistic. If you can cut down on hours for a few weeks though, that can help. Talk with your boss about coming in once or twice a week for a month or so, and slowly increase until you’re working your normal schedule.
Some mamas actually apply their FMLA to make this a reality. They may take, say, 10 full weeks off, and then use the remaining time they are federally entitled to in order to work a part-time or more creative schedule.
7. Find a support group
Returning to work after maternity leave is hard for ALL of us – trust me. Find a group of moms that are going to or have gone through the transition you’re facing right now.
Facebook groups with moms that live in your area can be a great resource. Just keep in mind that people can get a little salty when they’re hiding behind a computer screen. Watch out for this and remove yourself if you feel a situation isn’t going to be a positive and supportive environment.
8. Wardrobe check
With all the recent changes your body has faced, that snug and snappy business suit may not fit the way it used to. Don’t find this out ten minutes into your first morning back on the job; make sure your work clothing fits before then.
Maybe this is a good opportunity for a random shopping spree. 😉
On this note, be careful about how much clothing you buy immediately after baby. Some ladies slim right back down after birth because of breastfeeding and a healthier diet. Sometimes that weight sticks around.
Don’t throw out your wardrobe for plus size clothing only to find yourself back to your pre-pregnancy size a month or two later.
9. Practice separation from baby
Practicing being away from your baby is going to help ease the sting. Leave your baby with a trusted family member or friend for an hour or two. Later, increase the frequency or duration just a little bit at a time.
Use this time to get into the right head space. Drop in on a cafe to take a few refresher courses on your vital work skills. Do some math or write a few “business emails” to your baby’s email address.
If you work at a circus, brush up on your juggling. Do whatever you can to draw parallels between leaving your baby and doing something productive.
After doing this, it’s time to expand a little. Start leaving your baby with their new provider for an hour or two. This will allow both the provider and your child to start to get to know each other, and it helps you hash out the details for coming and going.
This will also stress test your compatibility with the daycare. If they’re too stiff and stodgy in their discipline or have unrealistic or age-inappropriate expectations, you’ll find this out within a couple of weeks.
Related: Postpartum Anxiety
10. Establish a goodbye routine
If you expect that you’ll have to work throughout your baby’s childhood, get used to a goodbye routine now. Everybody does it differently, but the most important thing you can do is to stay consistent and keep short. Do something like a hug, a kiss, an “I love you”, and “I’ll come back to get you later”.
It can be as simple as that.
It’s normal to get a little emotional – leaving the most important person in your life is a HARD thing. Try and hold it in until you get in the car. When our children see us lose our cool (especially at this age), it’s more likely that they’re going to get upset too.
11. Let the house go
When you’re staying home on maternity leave, expectations around the home can become a little unbalanced. For many new mamas, they’re expected to keep up with cleaning the home since they’re with the baby all day.
While this shouldn’t necessarily be the case (because it turns out that taking care of a newborn is actually a little like work, too!) it certainly can be. When you’re going back to work, make sure you set expectations with your partner regarding the home.
Let the house be messy every once in a while. Make sure that you and your partner are both making an effort to keep things clean.
This is easier said than done, of course.
Nothing is quite so stressful coming home from a hard day of work to find your kitchen a catastrophe that smells of last week’s breakfast. If you have a lot of trouble or this gets too out of control, practice some triage.
Decide which spaces absolutely must stay clean if you are to keep your sanity. For me, this is the kitchen counter and sink. As long as those are pretty well sorted, I can deal with most anything else.
Except maybe the toilet. It’s one thing to culture a free-spirited environment about housecleaning and quite another thing to grow a garden in your toilet bowl.
12. Find an alternate daycare option (just in case)
People go out of town, or they get sick. It’s always good to have a backup babysitter (or two) for when this happens. A lot of managers are understanding that this kind of thing happens sometimes, but that’s not always the case.
Depending on your work situation – you may be the ONLY one who can perform your job duty, making it more important to be there.
On that same note, most (probably more like ALL) daycare centers have strict rules about sick children. Talk to your friends or family and see if someone may be willing to take your little one if they wake up with a stuffy nose or a cough. It’s always good to have multiple options because this kind of stuff WILL come up.
13. Challenge mom guilt
Let’s be real, mama. You’re going to feel guilt for returning to work after maternity leave. It’s written in our biology that we must be there for our children, and it’s still believed by some of society that it’s a lady’s place to be stuck at home doing dishes while daddy goes off and meets all the people and does all the things.
Our society is evolving, and alternative situations are much more commonplace. If you’re like me, though, it’s not one but both of you that have to carry the task of bringing home some bacon.
Don’t get me wrong. If you have the luxury of staying home full time, that’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing quite as beneficial as having a consistent at-home presence with your children.
The truth is, mom guilt is something you’ll face for the rest of your child’s life, whether you stay at home or not. The best thing you can do is challenge it. Remind yourself that you may not WANT to work, but you DO want to provide food and shelter for your baby.
Also, remember that it’s also good to give your child exposure to other people and children. Socialization is an important part of growth, so you should give your child that opportunity. There are things that a child can only learn from other children.
Limit this time too strictly and you may have behavioral problems and extreme issues with things like sharing or biting.
Remember, mama. Plenty of us have to work, and our kids turn out just fine. Your child will turn out just fine too. Kids are resilient and flexible, and life is designed to adapt to obstacles.
As long as you provide the basic necessities for your child and make the most out of the time you have, you won’t be doing your little ones a disservice. Remember, good parenthood engagement is about quality of time, not the quantity of time.
Related: All About Comfort Nursing
You’re gonna rock returning to work after maternity leave!
Despite it all – regardless of how much good time apart does you, you cannot escape the heartbreak when returning to work after maternity leave. I wish that more people would talk about how hard it is to go through. This is a time of great sadness and difficult adaption, and it’s okay to feel emotional about it.
I think most of us cry our first week going back to work. While you definitely don’t want to break down in ugly breathless crying while giving a presentation for your company, give yourself a little grace to take a few minutes in private if you need it.
You have been through and are going through a lot.
Take time for yourself as you transition through this difficult and emotional time, and don’t forget to let your loved ones support you through this. Good luck mama!
Please comment below and tell me how your experience was returning to work after maternity leave? I would love to hear from you!