14 incredible tips for returning to work after maternity leave
Whether you’re excited about the prospect of returning to work following maternity leave or dreading it, you’re likely feeling some amount of discomfort with the idea of leaving your baby.
Returning to work after being home with your new baby is a big deal!
And it can cause a lot of different feelings and emotions.
So as you’re walking into this new season of juggling two jobs at once (because YES, being a mom is definitely a full time job) here are a couple of things that may help you as you prepare for this new stage:
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Take a test run before maternity leave ends
One of the best things I did for myself prior to leaving my first son at daycare was to take a couple of days prior to the start of daycare and drop him off for a couple of hours at a time.
I won’t lie to you – it sucked.
Sure, the break was helpful, but it was also stressful. Because I knew what I was preparing for.
But I do think it was incredibly beneficial for both myself and our son.
We both got a chance to warm up to his provider and a chance to practice leaving him with someone neither of us knew, without the anxiety of waiting all day to find out how it went.
On top of that, I had the flexibility to go get him an hour later if I really wasn’t feeling up for our separation that day.
The one major point to be made here as you do your test run, though, is to make sure your childcare provider is aware of what you’re doing.
You don’t want this new relationship to be tainted by an assumption on the part of your provider that this is being done out of a lack of trust. Just be honest and communicate with them.
If you’re having a hard time leaving your child and you don’t really want to get back to work, let the provider know you’ll be practicing for a week (or however long you choose) before your official start date.
Also communicate to the provider when you plan to be back and make sure that makes sense for them and their schedule. Of course you can pick up your child whenever you want, but being intentionally disruptive to their schedule should be avoided.
Feel good about your childcare decision
Choosing a childcare provider is really difficult.
It can be really difficult to put in the energy and time into finding someone who is not only available, but is also caring and that you trust.
And it can be especially hard because trust is built over time and you don’t really get that luxury before your baby is born, so you have to rely on friends, family members, and reviews to help you make that decision.
Whatever you choose, in-home daycare, daycare center, au pair, nanny, nanny share, or a family member or friend – at the end of the day you have to feel good enough about the person or place that you’ve chosen to be OK leaving your most precious person there while you’re at work.
If you don’t feel good about it, keep looking.
If you’ve been exclusively breastfeeding while you’ve been on maternity leave, make sure that you practice pumping while you’re home.
Pumping, for many women, does not produce the same amount of milk and it can really cause your milk supply to struggle, so using this as a tool to help you increase your milk supply while at home may be beneficial in the long run.
Make sure you have the proper pumping items you need (a good pump, bottles, cooler, sterilizer or sterilizer bags, and a good pumping bra) so that you can familiarize yourself with what you’ll need to do prior to returning to the office.
It’s also important to practice pumping because it does take some getting used to.
And it doesn’t always empty the breast as well as a baby does, which can result in clogged milk ducts (here’s how to relieve them) or even mastitis.
So even if you just try it out 2 or 3 times before returning to the office, its advisable to try it a couple of times so you’re not trying to figure it out at work.
Return with realistic expectations
The inaccurate expectation at some work environments is that mothers tend to not work as hard.
While this is inaccurate and working moms actually tend to be more productive than many of their peers, I do believe that it’s helpful to go into your first days of work pacing yourself as best you can.
Those first days and possibly even weeks (or longer) following your return to work after maternity leave can be really draining.
You’re exhausted both physically and mentally, chances are your baby isn’t sleeping through the night consistently yet, and you’re just getting used to the juggle of a job, baby, and your relationships.
There is plenty of time to be superwoman at your job.
As you transition back into your role, though, it makes a lot of sense to pace yourself.
Of course you’ll do your job and do it well, but don’t burn yourself out from the day your return to the office.
Utilize the flexibility offered by your employer
Whether its a lactation room, a flexible work schedule, the ability to take modified work days for doctor’s appointments, or whatever they have to offer – use them!
Its so easy for us to get caught up in what we “owe” our jobs and our companies, but if they have offered flexibility to their employees it is because they want their employees to stick around.
And they know that one of the best ways to keep good employees is to offer them perks and flexibility.
YOU JUST HAD A BABY.
Your whole world just turned upside down.
Its normal for you to need an adjustment period.
So if your company or manager has offered you flexibility in your schedule that might actually be of service to you – its ok to use that.
Of course, you don’t want to take advantage of the offerings and use them for things you don’t actually need adjustments for. But when your employer’s flexibility can serve you then its OK to use that.
Feel all the feelings
Chances are high that when you return to work following maternity leave, however long or short it has been, you’ll have some strong emotions about it.
You may feel really excited, sad, guilty, as well as a strong mixture of different feelings.
They’re all OK and totally normal.
When I returned I had several wonderful co-workers check-in on me and suggest that they had cried when they returned from work.
I know I did as well.
If you need to sneak off for a minute to regain your composure, that’s normal!
Or if you’re able to stay busy all day and enjoy the freedom of being back at work but feel guilty for not feeling more sadness, that’s OK too. There is absolutely no shame or validity to that mom guilt creeping in.
The important thing is to try not to let whatever feelings you’re experiencing when returning to work color your time with your family once you’re off the clock.
And if you need to speak with someone about your feelings, do it!
So many parents (not just moms) struggle with the variety of feelings that come from returning to work.
So feel all the feelings.
You can do this.
Communicate your feelings to your spouse or friends
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
I cannot stress to you how important it is that you find an outlet as you go through this momentous change.
Other parents will understand – it can be really hard!
Whether you need to talk to someone who can relate and empathize, someone who can offer help and suggestions with managing your emotions or various situations, or someone who just serves to offer a listening ear – talk to someone.
Especially if you’re in the first year after having your child.
For me, signs of postpartum depression and anxiety didn’t show up until I returned to work.
And it was a REALLY difficult time for me.
But a good therapist can make a huge difference.
Having friends to lean on and a spouse to cry to when things are tough are some of the most grounding and stabilizing points during that transition back to work.
This may put a strain on your relationships
Returning to work may or may not make your existing relationships more difficult for a period.
You may have a hard time articulating your feelings to your spouse.
Or the lack of sleep you’re getting while feeding your baby in the middle of the night may make you feel resentful toward your husband when you both have to work during the day but you’re also putting in middle-of-the-night hours.
Recognize that its totally normal to struggle with your spouse after having a baby, and probably most especially while you’re adding the extra responsibilities of returning to work.
But if you can acknowledge that and work to reconnect, the whole process will be better for all of you.
But your relationship with your spouse might not be the only one that struggles as you try to find balance with your job and your home and your friends and family members.
While there may be people with hurt feelings, try to remember that right now you need to do what is best for you and try to balance things as best you can.
If you need a night to reconnect with the girls, but you don’t want to be far from home or to leave the baby, have a girls night at home.
If you’re not up for hanging out with people (or if you’re dying to have that girls night out for a sense of normalcy), let your friends know.
Not everyone feels comfortable reaching out to a new mom for fear of putting too much on her plate.
So recognize that you might have to go through some changes with your friends.
But as with the best of friends, they’ll be ready to see you and spend time with you like they always have whenever you’re ready.
Know that you’re not alone
Depending on the dynamics within your working environment, you may feel incredibly supported or alone.
If you work for a company that values family time and has a strong environment for working parents, then you may feel like you shouldn’t be having a difficult time.
But it’s OK if you do.
Your work environment and colleagues, while potentially wonderful, don’t negate your own struggles. But it also doesn’t mean that all of the parents around you have had an easy transition.
I know my work environment with my first child was incredibly working-mom friendly. But I still had a hard time.
It was still difficult to know that I was away from my child and that he was having experiences that I was missing.
And if you’re work environment is less than accommodating to the working parent, know that your struggles with the adjustment there is difficult for a lot of people.
Unfortunately, as a country we don’t do a lot to support new parents. And some employers don’t do much to support the working parents they have under their employ.
If that’s you, it can feel incredibly lonely.
But even though it doesn’t fix the things you’re feeling or ease the burdens you’re facing, you’re not alone with these struggles.
Know your rights as a breastfeeding mom
If you’ve chosen to breastfeed and you need time to pump, you do have rights that your employer needs to abide by in accordance with the Department of Labor laws.
I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t pretend to be particularly well-versed here, but the Department of Labor’s website has a section dedicated to your questions, the laws, and even a complaint form.
According to the Department of Labor, your employer is required to provide you with a private space other than a bathroom to pump for the first year of your child’s life.
If you’re not sure of what your rights are, or you believe that your employer is not or will not be providing you with reasonable accommodations, check out the Department of Labor’s website.
The Department of Labor has a lot of different responsibilities, but one of these responsibilities is to ensure that employees have safe, healthy, and protected working conditions
One of my friends recently returned to work in a position that historically has a lot of crazy hours.
She expressed to me that one of her primary boundaries she set for herself when she returned was that she wouldn’t work after her designated end time.
It’s given her peace of mind knowing that she’s carving out set hours that are for her and her family that can’t be infringed upon.
Sometimes it may make her working hours more difficult at times, but overall it’s given her a lot of peace knowing she isn’t compromising her kid’s time for a job that could come and go.
Expect that it may take some time to adjust
If you haven’t adjusted to returning to work after your maternity leave within a day or two, or even several months, that is not altogether unexpected.
Don’t expect that you’re going to feel like this is normal right away.
For some people it does come really quickly and they get right back in the groove of working and figure out a healthy balance with their new baby and everything runs like a well-oiled machine almost right away.
But for others, it takes longer.
Sometimes a lot longer.
Especially (but not exclusively) if you’re grappling with postpartum depression and/or anxiety.
Give yourself grace during the process and know that it will take however long it takes.
You’re not a disaster, or a bad mom, or whatever negative explanation you come up with (trust me, I’ve been there).
You’re a new mom.
And you’re doing the best you can.
It will take time.
Give yourself grace, as much and as often as you can.
And if you can’t seem to find a way to give it to yourself, lean on people who will encourage you and protect you and remind you of how wonderful you are and what a phenomenal mom you are.
Consider your options if you’re employer isn’t providing you with what you need
I’m not saying quit your job (though that may be something to consider).
Figure out with your partner how to move forward if your job isn’t working out with your new (MAJOR) life change after a couple of months.
Talk with a job counselor or a therapist or a close personal friend or family member.
It may be worth finding a new job, asking to alter your schedule or decrease your hours with your current employer, finding a side-hustle, or quitting to stay home with your child.
Only you and your partner know what is reasonable and worth pursuing.
But you’re not necessarily locked into what you’re doing at the moment (most of the time).
So if you need to consider doing something a bit different for your mental health or for the benefit of yourself and your family – its worth considering.
You’re doing a great job
Whether the transition back to work is smooth sailing or you’re struggling every day to return to your job, you’re still doing a great job.
And it may be hard to believe, but you will continue to get better at it.
It won’t always feel like you’re doing all that well.
Sometimes you’ll probably feel guilty, or like you’ve dropped something important.
But even on those days, you’re still doing a great job.
Guiding and protecting another human being is an enormous job. And if you’re juggling that with another job – then wow! That’s a lot.
And you’re doing great!